Facilitation 101

Facilitation 101


Learn the art of facilitating with confidence

Reading Time

18 mins

What is this for? This is an introduction for anyone who wants to get better at guiding a group to achieve a common goal. Start facilitating with confidence by applying some simple, structured tips and tricks. Mindset and core principles The mindset behind learning the art of facilitation is about understanding the importance of including diverse perspectives and the value of design thinking principles. See also Advanced Facilitation tips for virtual workshops


Smart leaders are starting to realize that facilitation skills help teams work more effectively, and achieve greater success.

Facilitation isn’t just about having a fun afternoon playing with post-its (although it is fun). Facilitation is a set of learnable skills and structured methods that will help you lead and enable people to solve difficult problems for themselves.

We’ve collected these core tips and best practices to help you prepare and facilitate any meeting or workshop with ease.

“Tomorrow's leaders need to be facilitators… …In a world that can be seen as increasingly fragmented and chaotic, leaders who can build participation, alignment and meaning are finding more success.” Source: Forbes: Facilitation Skills Just Might Be The Best Kept Leadership Secret

Check out this video explaining 12 top facilitation techniques and tactics from the workshop experts at AJ&Smart.

How to prepare & facilitate with confidence

Before a session (prep)

Think about any materials you might want to prepare in advance

  • e.g. digital boards, relevant collateral, examples for inspiration, ...

Include diverse perspectives

  • Think about the right people to invite to the session
  • They might be more than just the first people you think of. Read more about benefits of including diverse perspectives
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Write a session plan with timings

  • Think about how long each activity/section might take
  • Include warm-up, time for questions, recap at the end, etc...
  • Then add at least 5 mins buffer time between each activity

Prepare an agenda (and make it visible during the session)

  • Seeing an agenda helps everyone feel comfortable with what is about to come (a little like seeing a movie trailer before sitting down to watch for 2 hours)
  • It can be very simple!
  • An example from a digital workshop
    An example from a digital workshop

Put buffer-time into your session plan

  • While planning the timing of your session allow a good amount of buffer time in-between activities or you are almost guaranteed to run over-time
  • People love to talk and sometimes a topic might warrant further discussion. Plan for this and you'll never be caught out.

Avoid too much pre-reading

  • We all know that pre-reading can be very useful, to bring everyone up to speed and save time in the session, BUT if you assign too much "homework" people will start to feel less energized when they receive an invitation from you

Think about using a decider

  • They can be very useful to act as a tie-breaker in group activities
    • They allow several options to be quickly resolved into one clear focus
    • They help keep things moving forward and avoid unnecessary rambling discussions
    • In many activities and workshops a Decider is essential to ensure a successful outcome
  • The facilitator should brief them ahead of time about what's involved in their role. They can be a strong ally for the facilitator to enable smooth progress through the activities.
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Think about inviting a co-facilitator

  • A co-facilitator is a supporting role that allows the lead facilitator to focus on the flow of activities and the needs of the group.
  • A co-facilitator can:
    • Help capture notes and ideas
    • Help arrange items clearly on the collaboration board and tidy up any loose ends
    • Act as a back-up for the lead facilitator (give them reminders if needed, observe and add useful suggestions, generally help the facilitator feel at ease and supported)
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Starting a session

Start with a quick warm-up/energizer activity

Quickly talk through the agenda

  • ...and the objective of the meeting/session

Set any ground rules and logistics (if relevant), e.g.:

  • In a 3 hour workshop you can explain that you till take breaks every hour
  • Ask people to turn off notifications or put their phone away (except in breaks)

Allocate time for anyone to ask questions about what will happen (5 mins can be enough)

Get participant's expectations

  • A great exercise for this is Hopes & Fears. It's an effective way to gauge participants’ attitudes about a project, workshop, or any other collaborative engagement.
  • Source: IMB Enterprise Design Thinking
    Source: IMB Enterprise Design Thinking

Explain your role as the facilitator

  • You will guide the group through a series of steps. But they will have the ideas, input, questions, and decisions that will determine the outcome.
  • Despite what you might feel, you are not responsible for the outcome! The group is.
  • Taking this pressure off yourself will make you a more confident (and more trusted) facilitator.

During a session

Work "together, alone" when appropriate

  • Working "together, alone" is when some activities are done in silence, giving each individual time to think and process their ideas before sharing them with the group
  • This can be done in the form of writing on stickies, sketching ideas, or finding examples to share, and then sharing all the input at the same time
  • This way of working is very useful to:
    • Allow diverse ideas to come forward
    • Reduce the risk that the loudest voices in the room control the direction of ideas
    • Allow everyone's ideas and thoughts to be "heard" equally
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Use a timer for activities (and discussion)

  • Digital collaboration boards have built in timers which are easy to use and everyone can see the time passing.
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  • Even if you are not using a digital tool you can still set a timer with your phone, or use the timer in Google Chrome and share your screen.
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Cut out circular discussion

  • In a regular meeting or long workshop it's easy for discussion to spiral out of control. A quick, easy way to short-circuit unnecessary discussion is to run a quick Note & Vote activity.
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  • Another simple tip is to "pre-warn" participants by setting expectations in advance that sometimes you will need to stop discussion for the sake of progressing

Start writing on the board

  • Some activities require people to write down their ideas (e.g. on stickies)
  • But, people often feel apprehensive to start writing (fear of being wrong)
  • If you start writing down ideas you hear them saying (or starting examples) it can lead the way, and show them that they don't have to be perfect.

Give clear instructions

  • Give people one clear way to do an activity (it's tempting to give alternative ways, but it usually leads to more confusion)
  • Write the basic steps so they are visible to everyone (not everyone will hear you the first time - and remember)
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Closing a session

Recap what you all did together

  • Allocate some time to talk through the steps you did and where you ended up (5 mins can be enough)

Show the group what's coming next

  • People will walk away with a sense of pride and satisfaction if they know how the work they did will be taken forward

Get reflections from the group (optional)

  • Reflecting can be especially useful if you want the participants to understand the value of the activities they did, and perhaps use them on their own.
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Checklist (am I ready?)

I've thought about the right people to invite
I have an agenda ready to show
I've written down a session plan with timings (and buffer time)
I've prepared any materials (e.g. digital tools like Mural)
I've written down instructions for participants (especially multi-step activities)
I've got a timer ready to use

Additional Resources

Recommended reading
Additional Resources