Tag: facilitation

Should facilitators make suggestions?

Excerpt from this video: “There are times when I think it’s perfectly appropriate and in fact extremely helpful to the group if the facilitator makes suggestions, makes proposals.”

What times? Craig explains in the video.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

There’s a school of thought out there that a neutral facilitator should never make any kind of suggestion when facilitating a group; that all proposals, all ideas, should come from members of the group and the facilitator just manages and, well, facilitates that. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought.

First of all, let’s take a look. I think there are three types of suggestions.

One type of suggestion is purely content. “Oh, you guys are talking about where to have your annual meeting? I know this place. It’s really great. And blah blah blah.” That is a content suggestion. I think that content suggestions, by and large, are off limits for neutral facilitators.

But there are two other kinds.

Another kind is what I would call a process suggestion. So maybe we’ve designed an agenda, we are working through a decision making process, and I have an idea of a process that might serve the group better. Process suggestions, I think, are perfectly fine for a group facilitator to make. That’s what the facilitator has been hired to do; manage the process. The facilitator should be always thinking about better processes and should make suggestions accordingly that will help the group.

There’s a third kind that’s kind of in the middle.

Maybe it’s a suggestion about content but it is based not on my personal knowledge, but on what I have learned from you just now in the meeting. And I tend to think that those types of suggestions are also okay if the facilitator is being absolutely truly neutral and if that suggestion is being made based on what he or she thinks will serve the group well. “Look, I’ve been listening to you talk for an hour; I have an idea for a solution that I think might serve you well.” I think that might be okay because the solution is based on what I’ve heard you say from my neutral point of view.

There are no hard and fast rules about this. Mostly it depends on the group culture and your agreement with that group on how you’ll behave as a neutral facilitator. But I am just pointing out that there are times when I think it’s perfectly appropriate and in fact extremely helpful to the group if the facilitator makes suggestions, makes proposals.

Thanks for listening everybody. I hope this helps your group make good group decisions.

How to call on people

Is it best to call on hands in the order that they are raised? Maybe not.

In this video Craig explains the downsides of doing that and encourages alternatives.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

There’s a presumption in almost all meetings that the leader should call on people in the order that hands are raised. I’m here to tell you that is not necessarily the best way and that is certainly not the only way.

Here’s another way. Some groups have a rule; everybody gets a chance to speak once before anybody speaks twice. If that’s the case, I might not call on the first hand that I see. If that person has already spoken, I’m going to skip over them and I’m going to always be looking for new hands.

Another way is that I am intentionally looking for diversity of perspectives. This is over simplified but: a man speaks, the next hand I’m looking for is a woman. If three women in a row speak, the next hand that I’m looking for is a man. And even if two or three women put their hands up first, I might call on a man. As the leader I am actively managing the discussion and deliberately calling on people in a way different than whoever puts their hand up first.

Another way is: I might actually really know the people in my group. I know them pretty well. I can guess the kinds of things they’re likely to say and I intentionally call on people to build a thread; to build us toward a conclusion.

If you have an ethic of calling on hands in the order that they are raised no matter what, you are going to hear from the fastest thinkers and the boldest people. You are not necessarily going to hear the best ideas or a huge diversity of opinion.

So it depends on what you want. I’m simply reminding you that it doesn’t have to be just one way. Check that presumption — that we should absolutely call on hands in the order that they’re raised — and give yourself permission to do it differently.

Thanks for listening everybody. I hope this helps your group make good decisions.

Agendas with end times are efficient

In a meeting room about to implement an agenda, Craig explains how useful it is to state an ending time.

Thanks for holding the camera, Wanda!

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody!

Hey it’s Craig Freshley about to facilitate a meeting in this room and today I want to talk about the importance of an agenda having an ending time. Come this way.

A lot of groups — especially government councils and commissions — tend to have meeting agendas without an ending time because there is an ethic that we want to give everybody a chance to say everything that they need to say. We want to give all the time that’s required for a particular agenda item.

And I get that, but a downside of not having an end time to an agenda is that the facilitator — the leader of the meeting — has no leverage. There is nothing that I can do or say as the facilitator to speed things along, to call people out when comments are being repeated; to take a hard line about things that are off-topic.

When an agenda has an end time, at various points through the agenda I can say, “look we’ve only got 45 minutes. Look I understand that what you’re saying is important but we’ve only got 20 minutes left in this meeting and I want to hear from some others.” As we get close to the end time I can be more and more pushy.

And what I find is that it actually doesn’t have the result of limiting comments. It has the result of making comments more efficient, and honestly that’s what we want in a meeting. If you want your meetings to be productive and efficient, wherever possible state an end time and stick to it.

I hope this helps your group make good decisions. Thanks for listening everybody.

Role of the Chair Person

In this short video Craig describes two types of leaders. Which type are you?

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I heard a story in a meeting too good not to tell.

This guy just joined a new group. He was trying to fit in. He came back from the bathroom and learned that he had been elected group chair person. At first he was upset but then he started thinking to himself, “Hmm. Group Chair Person. Okay, well I’ll get to feel important. I’ll get to like, tell people what to do; boss people around. I’ll get all the girls.” And he sat through the rest of the meeting quietly.

Afterwards he asked somebody, “So, what are the responsibilities of the chair person anyway?” “Oh yeah, well the group chair person is the one who comes an hour early makes the coffee and sets up all the chairs.”

There’s two kinds of leaders. There is the kind of leader that wants to command people and command respect, and there’s the kind of leader that wants to serve people and serve the group cause.

Which kind of leader do you want to be? The one that bosses people around and gets all the girls or the one that makes sure each person has a seat at the table that every group member is fully supported.

Thanks for listen everybody. I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

Make the most of your pre-meeting

Wondering “Why aren’t these people talking to each other?”, Craig offers his advice for how to make the most of pre-meeting time: put away your screen and start a conversation with someone. It just might result in better meeting outcomes.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

I run a lot of meetings where I walk into the meeting room before it starts and people are here, you know, waiting for the meeting to start. And everybody’s, like, looking at their phone or looking at their laptop. People aren’t talking to each other. And I’m thinking to myself, “Why aren’t these people talking to each other?”

Now, I get it – a lot of times the meeting is a group of staff that have a chance to talk to each other all the time, and before the meeting starts they just want to get stuff done. But a lot of times the people in the meeting room are perhaps meeting together for the first time, or they only meet together once in a while. And in those situations I’m wondering why somebody thinks that a screen is more important than a conversation with another person, because honestly that’s what it looks like to me. If I walk into a room and see a person with their head down looking at a screen, I receive a message that that machine is more important to them than I am.

I love it when I walk into a room and somebody closes their screen and looks up at me and starts a conversation. Or better yet, hasn’t been looking at a screen at all; is simply available for me to start a conversation with them.

Now we might say, “Look, the meeting hasn’t started yet. I don’t need to pay attention to other people before the start of the meeting. I’ll get to do that when it starts.” But I have come to realize that a big part of the magic that happens in meetings happens before it starts, during the break, and after the meeting ends. It’s that unprogrammed casual time where we get to know each other. We ask questions about each other, and we learn that we have things in common that we never even suspected. Sometimes it’s those things that help us be most productive in the meeting and in doing stuff together after the meeting.

Thanks for listening everybody.

I hope this helps your group make good group decisions.

Come to the Meeting!

If we want real resolutions to hard problems, we need to hear all points of view. In this video on the way to a meeting — with signs along the road that say “Come to the meeting!” — Craig explains why being in the room is so important.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here, on my way to a meeting, and as I’m driving to this meeting I noticed that there are some signs along the road. Let’s read them.

This one says: ‘SOS’, ‘Save our shoreline access’, ‘Come one come all’, ‘Come heed the call’, ‘Come speak your piece’,  ‘On paper streets’, ‘Attend the public forum’, ‘Today, Saturday’.

Look, when we have a public meeting on a controversial topic like the one I’m driving to, it helps if we have all kinds of points of view in the room. There are some people here in Cape Elizabeth, Maine who have taken the initiative to try and encourage people to come to this meeting.

If we want to arrive at a peaceful solution we have our best chance of doing that if we hear all the concerns of all the people in the same room at the same time, because that allows us to ask questions of each other and really understand where each other’s coming from.

So I’m off to facilitate a public meeting at which we hope to hear from each other, understand each other, and maybe come to some ideas about peaceful resolution.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody!

Round Robin

In this video Craig explains the “round robin” facilitation technique — giving everyone a chance to speak, one at a time — and he offers some tips on when and how to use this technique in a meeting.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I just finished up a day-long meeting right here in this room. I want take a minute and talk about a specific facilitation technique, sometimes called Round Robin.

It’s basically where you give every single person in the room a chance to say something and you deliberately go one at a time. I find that using this works best when the group is stuck; when it’s not clear how the issue should be resolved; when it’s not clear what the next steps should be. I have found over and over again when I am stumped as the facilitator — when I really don’t know what the sense of the group is or how something should be resolved or what we should do next — I turn to this technique and often times resolution happens magically.

I think it works best if you apply a few things here.

First of all, be really clear on what you are asking each person to respond to. Write it on the wall, type it onto the screen, or just say it in really simple terms like, “Okay we’re going to go around the room, each person one at a time, and I would like to hear from each of you: “What do you think we should do as an immediate next step? Everybody got that? One at a time: What do you think we should do as an immediate next step?” I’m crystal clear about what I’m asking them to respond to.

Number two. Call for a volunteer to go first. Do not point to somebody randomly or to the person on either end and ask them to go first. You have a much better chance of success if the person who goes first actually wants to go first. That person is already prepared with a response, they don’t mind going first, and because of those two things they are likely to model good behavior for everyone else. If you just point to somebody randomly you might get somebody who is embarrassed because they don’t have a response, or somebody who goes on way too long and then after that everybody else thinks they’re supposed to talk for that long. All kinds of bad things could happen. Call for a volunteer. Like, “Okay who’s ready with an answer and would like to start?” Look for a hand.

When that hand goes up, number three. Say something like this, “Okay thanks for putting a hand up. Before you give your answer let me just point out how we’re going to do this. We’re going to start there and we’re going to go around the room like this [point or signal s direction left or right]. You can pass if you want but I am going to call on each of you one at a time.” This way I’m letting everybody know when their place in the lineup is going to happen. That’s really helpful to people; they know what to expect. If I just call on one person and then I wait for another hand and then I wait for another hand,  now the people have to not only think about their response, they have to think about when they want to say their response. I can actually clear their mind and help their creative thinking if I take that responsibility away from them and I just say what the order is going to be.

Maybe I’m up to number four. Let people pass if they want to. I look at them in the eye and if I see that somebody’s not quite comfortable with the response, I will say to them, “You can pass if you want. No problem. We’ll come back to you if you would like to say more later.” And I might move on and then come back to those people that passed. Not everyone is able to come up with a response as fast as others.

Number five. As I take the comments from each person I’m writing them down on a clipboard or maybe I’m writing them on the wall or somebody else is writing; but I am looking for themes. I am looking for the resolution. I am looking for the sense of the group and after everyone has gone, I either reveal on the screen what I think are the themes — the general sense of the group — the commonalities — or I simply say it out loud based on my clipboard.

I am often surprised at how well this simple technique works in moving a group forward.

For one thing, we get to hear all of the ideas. In a conversation where I’m calling on those who most want to speak, it’s remarkable how many ideas get left unspoken. With the Round Robin we really hear what is most top of mind from every single person.

Second, we all get to see what everybody thinks and what the themes are. They tend to emerge and become self-evident.

I’m not saying that this technique should be used all the time and there’s a danger of overusing it, but I am saying that I think it’s generally underutilized and underrated as a technique for moving a group forward; if done well, keeping in mind the five things that I just pointed out.

Thanks for listening everybody. I hope that you help your group make good decisions!

Gender respect: yes, please

In this 3-minute video Craig discusses his increasing challenge with gender identification; “Sometimes I can’t tell if someone is a man or a woman!” He wants to be politically correct AND show respect, but how? He’s got one idea. Do you agree with this approach?

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

I was running a meeting the other day — standing at the front of the room calling on people — and somebody way at the back raised their hand. Button-down Oxford shirt, short trimmed hair, square glasses. Actually this person looked a lot like me. “Yes sir. Yes you. At the back, sir.” Well when the person stood up I realized that the person I had just called “sir,” was actually a woman.

It is not okay to call somebody “sir” who identifies as a women. It is not okay to call somebody “ma’am” who identifies as a man. And increasingly, this is a challenge for me as a professional meeting facilitator. Sometimes I look out at the people in my meetings, or I look at the people coming through the door into my meetings, and I can’t tell if that person identifies as a man or a woman.

And you know what? It’s okay if I can’t tell. That person is allowed to present however they want. And they are allowed to think of themselves however they want. As a professional meeting facilitator it’s important that I don’t offend that person no matter what and that I accept that person for who they are no matter what.

But I like to use the terms “sir” and “ma’am!” And why is that? I figured out that it’s not about gender identity; that is a way for me to convey respect. It’s a way, from the very start of the conversation, to say “I honor you.” There is a tone of formality and reverence and older people especially like to be called “sir” and “ma’am.”

So how can I use language that is gender-neutral and non-offensive no matter what, AND convey respect? The best I can come up with is the words: “Yes, please.” Rather than “Yes sir, yes ma’am,” “Yes, please.” “Yes, you at the back, please.”

From now on that’s what I’m going to try to do: let somebody be what ever gender they want, no matter what they look like, but also show them that I respect them as an individual and I want to hear what they have to say.

Thanks for listening everybody, regardless of what gender you are. And I hope you help your groups make good decisions!

Align purpose, technique, attitude

Craig reflects on a recent meeting where some people were very frustrated because they couldn’t solve their problem! Yet problem solving wasn’t the purpose of the meeting.

In this video Craig explains how important it is to align the meeting purpose with facilitation techniques with participant attitudes.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I was in a meeting the other day and the purpose of the meeting was to gather input, for us to learn from each other, and for the organizers of the meeting to be able to learn all the different perspectives of the people in the meeting. Think: a Town Hall kind of meeting, or public input meeting. Sometimes corporate managers might have a meeting like this where they want to gather input from their staff.

The thing was, in this meeting, I set up a ground rule. It was something like “Everybody gets to talk once before anybody talks twice.” The idea being that I wanted to hear — we wanted to hear — from everybody in the room; all the different perspectives.

But some people in that meeting were quite frustrated. Somebody would speak and then this person wanted to build on that idea, or somebody else would speak and they wanted to critique that idea, and we had a few people that were chomping at the bit to talk twice before everybody had a chance to talk once! And I got to realizing afterwards that it’s probably because their expectation was mismatched with the meeting purpose.

You see, I think it works well to let people build on each other’s comments or critique each other’s ideas when the purpose is problem-solving. We might call it brainstorming. That’s what we call collaboration, or you might have other names for it. You know, when we let ourselves go and even allow each other to interrupt and we’re just, you know, building on the momentum and energy in solving a problem or making something new.

But when the purpose of the meeting is to collect information and hear all the different perspectives, that’s not the right time for interrupting each other and critiquing each other’s ideas. In fact, I think that the “problem” that those people were trying to solve was: they wanted other people to see things their way. They went to that meeting to try and work on that problem, but that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting.

So I’m just naming that there are different reasons for having a meeting. There are different techniques and ways of calling on people to match the purpose of the meeting. And there are also different attitudes and expectations that we bring to a meeting.

When these three things are aligned — meeting purpose, facilitation techniques, and participant attitude — we have a really good chance of having a great meeting and making good group decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody!


Some people can’t stand silence, especially in a group, and they feel they are doing everyone a favor by filling the void! Are they?

With a Maine spring brook babbling in the background, Craig explains three benefits of silence and how keeping your mouth shut can be highly efficient.

Here are two related Good Group Tips that Craig has written: Reflective Pause and Talk or Listen.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.


Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. Can you hear the waterfall behind me? It is spring time in Maine!

Look, in many cultures — and this is true in many American cultures especially — there’s a sense that silence is a waste of time, especially in a group. If no one is saying anything, that must mean that nothing is getting done. Some people cannot stand silence, especially in a group, and they feel the need to speak up to fill the silence. They feel as if they are doing everyone a favor by saving us all from the dreadful silence that would otherwise be occurring.

But I believe that silence has some very practical benefits and I think that it’s underrated.

For one thing, when I hold my thoughts and remain silent it’s as if gesturing to an open door for someone else to go first. I happen to be the type of person who can think pretty quick on my feet and I’m not bashful about speaking up. But you know what? Not everyone is like that. And for many people who are not so fast on their feet, who are not so quick to speak up, a few moments of silence can give that person the courage to collect their thoughts and walk through that open door. When I am silent it is letting someone else go first.

A second benefit of a moment of silence is that it honors the statement of the previous speaker. Some cultures have an ethic of a bookend of silence before and after each person speaks. What a nice idea. It is a quiet saying thank you and honoring the comment that was just made rather than quickly rushing to the next.

A third practical benefit of silence is that it allows me to collect my thoughts. It allows the group to reflect on what has been said and collect its collective thoughts. It slows things down, chills things out.

Look, we are quick to get this idea that if the group is silent, that must be a waste of time. That must be inefficient! If we’re not talking we’re not producing. Well if you want to see real inefficiency, it’s having to go back and fix things because a regretful comment was made in haste. That’s what causes huge inefficiencies; when somebody just couldn’t help themselves from opening their mouth and now the whole group has got to spend a whole bunch of time dealing with that.

A friend once said, “A moment of silence is never a waste of time.” And I think that is worth thinking about for a moment.