Facilitator’s cheat sheet

SO YOU’VE BEEN ASKED TO FACILITATE AN INCEPTION...

As facilitator of an inception, all eyes are on you. But take heart – you’re not doing this alone. Inceptions are a joint effort, and your colleagues will lead in their areas of expertise and contribute with their consulting skills.

PREPARATION:

  • Put together and maintain the Facilitation Kit.

  • Focus the team on session goals and responsibilities (leading, facilitating, note and time tracking).

  • Where needed, remind the team of the ‘plan of attack’, especially when heading into complex or political territory.

DURING EACH SESSION:

  • Start each session, confirm the expected outcomes and how the session will be run.

  • Ensure participants understand why they are there, and what value they will get out of it (or are expected to provide).

  • Balance attendees meeting their own needs (to vent, be heard, etc) with moving forwards on the topics at hand.

  • Reinforce the rules of engagement (e.g. if someone breaks the rules of engagement, point to the rule being broken and confirm whether the group still signs up to this).

  • Stayontrack. Summarise decisions, insights and outcomes. Park topics that are not relevant right now, explain why, and note them down for future revisiting. Park and revisit whenever you’re going round in circles, can’t make a decision, or where a stakeholder hijacks a session.

  • Note down assumptions, risks, dependencies and actions. Assign owners.

  • Keep momentum going, but also provide space to think and reflect.

  • Read the room and make suggestions based on what you observe (breaks, focused break-out discussions, revisit topics on another day, involve (different) experts or decision-makers in future sessions).

  • At regular intervals, playback outcomes, insights and confirm the next session/ activity.

THROUGHOUT THE DAY:

  • Start each day with a recap of the previous day, and a look ahead at what the sessions will be today.

  • Through out the day, you are continually building up a picture of the current context and potential future state. To make the knowledge count, tie in what you learn in each subsequent session/activity to the work done before (e.g. when talking about a feature, you can refer back to a specific pain point raised a day earlier).

  • Take notes of the dynamics you’re observing, where you think there might be unaddressed (or taboo!) topics and risks; raise these with the group (or a trusted party) so the problem(s) can be addressed.

Pro tips

Enlist a co-facilitator / buddy to pair with.

Be flexible with your agenda: you’ll find some of your assumptions to be incorrect, and there might be some fundamental conversations or alignment needed among the people in the room. Be comfortable with updating your agenda accordingly.

Optimise for flow: ensure that the logical flow of your inception is not broken when scheduling.

Be clear on whether sessions are divergent (exploring, asking questions, coming up with new ideas and understanding) vs convergent (agreeing on topics, making decisions, choosing solutions).

Energise the room by mixing different interaction and workshop styles. Appreciate that some participants prefer to sit or lounge; others to stand. Participation is more important than pose.

Direct proceedings and show leadership, but allow everyone else to participate – especially the quieter participants, who will often make high-value contributions when given the space to do so.

Don’t be arrogant. The people in the room have successful businesses and extensive domain experience in their discipline. Assume they know what they are talking about and have good reasons for their current views.

Don’t grill participants. It’s very easy to become preoccupied with what we think we need to get out of an inception, and in doing so miss important details. Find a balance between listening, asking, workshopping, advising and directing.

Have lunch and other breaks outside the meeting room to avoid cabin fever.