Monday, August 8, 2011

My Facilitation … Don’ts!

I do windows … but I don’t do icebreakers, parking lots, and “touchy-feely”!

It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy! Therefore, this blog is mostly a light-hearted look at a few aspects of facilitation that I don’t do. I fully support other facilitators’ right and choice to use them. Facilitation is very much an individual approach and style. What works for me may not work for others and vice versa. Although written in a light-hearted vein and for fun, I hold strong values about these “don’ts”.

What’s on my “don’t” list? Icebreakers to start! These are activities generally conducted at the beginning of a facilitated session to help participants to get to know one another, to energize them, to prepare for the topics of the session, and to create a positive group atmosphere. Yes … at the beginning of a session, I invite participants to introduce themselves and to take part in a conversation or an activity that helps them “become fully present” and engaged in the session topic, to start to set a climate of support, inclusion and commitment, and to have fun. I just don’t call them icebreakers! I don’t like the image of participants needing to break ice between them. I use terms such as introductory activities, opening conversation, and checking-in activities.

I don’t use a “parking lot”. This is a term I hear used by many individuals when we are planning a facilitated session. The idea of a parking lot is that any topic not on the agenda is placed in the parking lot; typically, a flipchart page taped to a wall. The topic is “parked”, hopefully, for future consideration. Unfortunately, my experience is that the parking lot is never re-visited, and the flipchart page is recycled or thrown away at the end of the session. Therefore, I encourage participants to “drive” the newly introduced topic rather than “park” it. By drive, I mean that the group intentionally and immediately decides what will be done with the topic; i.e. decide whether it is important enough to include on the agenda or to discuss immediately or that it is not relevant and will not be discussed or deliberately assign the topic as a responsibility to one or two individuals for follow-up. I believe that the topics typically placed on a parking lot need a decision and possibly, an action.

I don’t do “touchy-feely” activities, or as clients have said to me, “those games where we all play and touch each other and get emotional”. When I ask clients what they mean by touchy-feely games, I find that they worry about physical touching such as holding hands and baring their souls through deeply personal conversations. I share with clients my values about everyone having a voice, being heard and listening; encouraging honesty, openness and authenticity; using various discussion methods to meet the needs of different learning styles; and the importance and joy of having fun. I use discussion and decision-making activities that meet these values without invading personal spaces (physical and emotional) of participants. I often use physical activities and quick games because I believe that people like being playful and having fun at appropriate times in a session. For example, a game of Rock Paper Scissors or a variation will quickly get people laughing and relaxing without having them in too much physical contact. A high five is often preferable to holding hands. And I’m used a conga line and a bum pat – believe me, these were appropriate! I use conversation methods that allow participants to share what they feel is important to share, to the extent that they are comfortable. Participants sitting in pairs and talking about each other’s role in a community shares personal information and creates a relationship without being too emotionally invasive.

When I plan and facilitate activities, I say out loud the intent and purpose of each activity. If it makes sense to the participants and me, it is normally a good match to help the group reach the desired outcome.

My facilitation blog question is: What are your facilitation do’s and don’ts?


  1. Hey Barb - as always... your blog makes me smile and teaches me something new. In fact, as I wade as a newbie into the world of facilitation I often find myself asking "Would Barb do?". I've also happily stole a few of your introductory activities but have yet to experience the 'bum pat'. Dare I ask.... Great work!

  2. Thanks Janet,
    Bum pats have happened twice; one about 12 years ago with a group in BC and the second time, with an ACE Community! They just fit! We laughed lots! I'll explain in detail when I see you.

  3. Great blog. I'm not into any of the activities you mentioned as well. I don't use a parking lot, just tell people to tie up their "hobby horse" at the door.

    Wayne Page