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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0031| December 11, 2001
7,700 Subscribers

Intervention Skill

Facilitate Participation

Withheld energy impedes group progress and evolution.

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.

On the plus side, here are several reasons you might want to facilitate full participation from all group members:

- 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.


So how do you go about getting full group participation? Here are some suggestions:

- Set the tone for full participation at the start of the meeting with a dynamic and entertaining icebreaker exercise that engages everyone. This loosens everyone up and gets them talking. This is especially important for the shy ones.

- Make full participation part of the ground rules and facilitate full commitment from participants.

- Address any pretenses participants may be playing from the start. For instance, if you're facilitating a working group in which many participants are forced to be involved, give them the opportunity up front to air their honest concerns and help them create a perspective that will help them to use this time to their benefit.

- Help people clarify and share their purpose for being in the meeting and adjust your content to address everyone's needs to the degree possible.

- Break large group into smaller groups or dyads and conduct exercises or working sessions to engage each participant. Results can then be reported back to the larger group and be collated and synthesized.

- Get people to participate physically by moving them around in the room based on some criterion your illustrating. Let them physically and creatively express a problem, barrier, solution, or vision, through dance, movement, mime, etc.

- Always value a participants input, even if it seems irrelevant or off base. As a facilitator, you have a lot to do with creating an environment of trust where others feel comfortable participating. So it's important to always make participants feel good about sharing. How you treat each individual will show others the treatment they can expect when they share. 

- Make participation fun and non-threatening for everyone. Use humor whenever possible. Risk being a fool.

- Ask lots of open-ended questions using language and content to engage the various operating styles and temperaments, i.e. visual, kinesthetic, aural, intuitive, logical, feeling, etc.

- In an ongoing group where trust is strong, ask the quiet ones directly what can be done to facilitate more participation from them.

- Have people write their inputs down and post them in the room, or collate them for later distribution if that supports your process.

- Use silence effectively. Ask for input from the quiet ones and WAIT until they respond. Often the shy ones are slower processors because they are processing more deeply and take more time to respond. Silence also gives every participant the responsibility for carrying the group forward.

- Do round-robin types of queries to get input from everyone.

- Ask for contrarian ideas or perspectives from the group.


Your assignment this week is to practice using two or three of the above methods to increase your group's participation. You can even employ some of these methods in meetings where you are a participant. We're interested in hearing about your experiences. Please email us your stories and perspectives. We'd love to get hear from you!

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 question that might be valuable for other readers to know about. We may use your responses as a resource for future issues of the journal or for other works.  Please email us your responses. All those who respond will be sent the entire collection of responses. Thanks so much for your consideration of my request.

Thanks for your help in making the Master Facilitator Journal the best facilitation resource site on the web!

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

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

About the Author: 
Steve Davis is a Business and Life Coach facilitating others to reach  their full potential in their business and personal lives. Please email your stories, comments, suggestions, and ideas. Or call me at 800-216-3854. 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


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In cooperation with Nightingale-Conant, we now offer over 30 products that will assist skill development for facilitators, leaders, managers, coaches, clients, teachers, and others in the personal growth industry. These resources come in form of audio, CD, Video courses, many of which are accompanied by workbooks. I've used several of these programs myself and consider them an excellent value. We've also included products from independent vendors that we've found useful.

These products would make great gift ideas for friends, clients, and relatives you care about and whom you want to give something of value that will improve their life experience and effectiveness.

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Happy browsing!

Warmest Regards,

Steve Davis

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Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on December 18, 2001. 


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