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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0104 | June 10, 2003
7,500 Subscribers

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

From the Publisher: 

Hello MFJ Readers. 

One of the most persistent concerns facilitators voice is that of acquiring full participation from individuals in their groups. But what do we mean by "full participation?" Do we mean everyone in the group actively engaged either by speaking up in the group or involving themselves in the activities? Do we mean that they are fully present and listening to all that others are expressing? How much participation is enough? These are the questions this issue explores.

We're happy to introduce a free teleclass this Thursday at 8PM EDT on the topic of "Getting Full Participation." This class will explore a new model of group participation and many strategies one can use to facilitate it. The class will be recorded and to become part of the first "Facilitator's Guide" to be released next week by Please see details below and sign up now as space is limited.

Also if you're interested in attending our first teleclass on Appreciate Inquiry, you must sign up now as it starts tomorrow, Wednesday, June 11th at 2PM EDT. There is still room. Click on the banner to the right for details and registration info.

If you or your colleagues are interested in submitting an article for consideration, please email your ideas. I'd love to hear from you.

Have a great week... 
Steve Davis

Group Skill

Getting Full Participation
Learn different strategies to engage participants in different ways.

The Point

The importance of full group participation is often overlooked and undervalued, particularly by groups whose inordinate focus is on the "results" or product, at the expense of the process. Often, the damage done by this approach, in time, is what stimulates a group to seek expert facilitation. Continued inattention to process may lead to weakened or strained relationships between group members, decline in group effectiveness, decreasing buy-in and resultant support of decisions made by the group, reduction of group energy, synergy, and enthusiasm, and a real lack of enjoyment participating in the group.

Why is full participation important?

- Get larger buy-in from group members, which tends to make the execution of any solutions more long-lasting and efficient.

- Generate fewer opportunities for barriers to develop. Some content being held by silent group members can provide the missing piece necessary to free up a group that is stuck.

- Lower tendency for group to fall into group-think and resultant narrowing of perspectives and possibilities.

- Get access to the full wisdom and knowledge available to the group. Often, those who are the most quiet have the most to say, as they tend to be more observant and sometimes more objective about what's going on in a group.

- Collaboration requires full participation. Just as good democracy requires hearing many voices, group problem-solving, learning, visioning, decision-making, etc. is more effective with full participation.


So what is full participation and how do we facilitate it? To answer this question, it may be helpful to view the means by which we do so from a holistic perspective around the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions as shown in the Venn diagram below.

Physical Facilitation
At the physical level it's important to provide various activities that engage participants so as to accommodate different learning styles and preferences, i.e. visual, aural, and kinesthetic. Participants must be given the opportunity to participate in ways that work for them. For example, they may need time to share their observations and experiences, and possibly using different formats, i.e. verbal, small group, large group, journaling, drawing, etc. Finally, the environment should be physically comfortable and conducive to the kind of participation you're aiming for. For example, if you're planning to pair people up, a configuration of long meeting tables tightly arranged would probably not be appropriate. If you're aiming for lots of large group interactive discussion, you'd want to set up a circle or horseshoe arrangement of chairs instead of a classroom like setting.

Mental Facilitation
At the mental level it can be useful to present new information that has some relationship to what's already familiar to the group. Inviting participants to share where they already are is easy for them to do, and gives them a sense of their starting point. To insure higher levels of participation, you must also be the gatekeeper of boredom. Strive to make your activities and presentations interesting, compelling and provocative to stimulate people. Stay conscious of the level of energy and engagement in the room and change something if interest appears to be lacking. Again, it's also important to be aware of the differences between visual, aural, and kinesthetic (VAK) participants and use multiple modes of presentation to engage each of these senses. Just remember, keen interest equals active participation!

Emotional Facilitation

At the emotional level it's clear that people will participate only to the level they feel safe in doing so. Trust and safety have arguably the largest impact on the level of participation you can expect. Build trust gradually, interjecting increasingly risky activities as trust increases. Facilitating and managing an environment of mutual respect, acknowledgment, and validation in all interactions and intra-actions between yourself and all participants will foster a feeling of safely and maximize participation. Further, presenting material, exercises, and processes that are directly relevant to what the group is there to accomplish is critical to inspiring their involvement. If relevance is not apparent during initial phases of an activity, its objectives and purpose should be explained and agreed upon at the start to get buy-in from the group.


What are some of the challenges you have to facilitating full participation in your groups? I'd love to hear them. Please email us your comments.

cartoon image of a talking man.

Reader Survey

As a Facilitator, what can you tell us about the design of experiential exercises?

As facilitators, we know the impact that experiential activities can have on group process and adult learning. Our questions this week focus on the design of such exercises. We'd like to hear about your experience in this area. Please reflect on the following questions and share your wisdom with us:
- How do you go about designing exercises for a particular group need?

- What are the attributes of an effective exercise?
- How do you design the exercise to account for the unique content focus of the group?

We'd appreciate your thoughts on the above questions. Please email us your responses. All those who respond will be sent the entire collection.


About the Publisher
Steve Davis is a Facilitator's Coach helping leaders enhance their effectiveness through the application and perspective of facilitation. Please email or call me at 805-489-4130 to schedule a Free exploratory session, or to share your suggestions and ideas for the journal. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading!

In the Spotlight

Micro-Skills Teleclass for Group Workers

We are all challenged at one time or another to get better participation in our groups. Join us Thursday, June 12th, from 8:00 - 8:45 PM EDT when we'll review our new model for Full Participation and answer any questions you have about applying it to your groups.

This is the first of many teleclasses to focus on a specific aspect or situation for facilitators and group workers. It will be recorded and included in an upcoming Facilitator Guide on Full Participation.

To register for this free teleclass, please send a blank email to:

Class size is limited so please register now if you're interested. I look forward to seeing you there!

Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal. Look for your next issue on June 17, 2003.


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