Tag: Facilitation techniques


In this short video, Craig explains how music can serve multiple purposes 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, about to start a training session. There’s something that I want to show you. Come on inside.

We got all set up before people are arriving. Look, we’ve got food over here. We’ve got the tables for people to sit, we’ve got a blank wall, slides.

But, do you hear that? We’ve got music playing. I find that it’s so helpful to kind of lighten the atmosphere and help people feel cheerful if you can have some music playing on arrival, right? Why not?

And you know what? I’m going to use music too, for some of the breaks.

I’m going to ask people to change tables today – several times. And the way I’m going to do that is, I’m going to turn on some music. I’m going to ask people to get up out of their chairs and walk around randomly while the music plays and (you’ve probably got this figured out) when the music stops, sit down wherever you are. It’s a really fun and quick way to get people to sit in different places.

Look, there’s a lot of seriousness going on in the world. A lot of seriousness about our meetings and training sessions. If we can lighten things up with a little music, why not?

I hope this helps your group make good decisions.

Google Docs for Group Reports

In front of a room of 100 people, Craig takes us behind the scenes and shows us how people at each table are writing up the table conversations in Google Docs. He also shows us the instruction slide that everyone is following. (Don’t worry, that slide is frozen on the big screen while Craig shows us around his laptop.)

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 am here at the University of Maine at something we call The Nursing Summit. We’re facing a nursing shortage coming up here in Maine so we have in this room legislators, hospital administrators, people from the University System, and all kinds of stakeholders trying to figure out how to address this shortage. Right now they are talking at their tables and I just wanted to share with you a little bit about how this is working. Take a look.

Right here on my laptop is what’s shown on the big screen. It basically is the instructions for these small group discussions.

Behind the scenes, every table is typing into a Google document. We have students here from the University of Maine School of Nursing and from the Economics Department and I have provided a complete set of templates for them and these recorders are typing into all of these templates. I just want you to notice how well organized they are. The numbers match the table numbers at their tables, and they’ve been given clear instructions and training on how to do this.

We’ve even created a document where we’re going to summarize all of the top strategies. Let’s just peek and see if anybody’s typing in here right now. “Region Two – Oxford, Franklin, Androscoggin” is typing in their top strategies. Some of these others have already been typed in. And at the end of this little session I’m going to show this document on the screen and we’re going to be able to talk about all the top strategies as a full group.

Thanks for letting me share with you a little bit about what’s going on behind the scenes: how we’re collecting the data and how I’m helping this 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!

Meeting Room First Impressions Matter

Just before a meeting with a nonprofit board of directors, Craig takes us on a quick tour of the meeting room setup and explains how good first impressions help build professional credibility and trust in the process.

Also check out these other room setup resources: this video from a nice room in Rhode Island, and this room setup handout that we often share with clients when planning meetings.

Here’s what Craig says in the video:

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here, standing outside a meeting room that I just set up. I am here in Princeton, Maine. I’m about to meet with a group called The Downeast Lakes Land Trust. It’s a board of directors, and we’re going to make plans for their future. I have never met anyone on this board, this is my first time meeting them. Of course we had a conference call and planned out the meeting and they decided to hire me. But the first time that I meet them, the first time they walk into a Craig Freshley meeting room, I want them to have a really good impression. Let’s go take a look at what I set up.

I want them to have the impression that this is a professional setup. That this is going to be a good meeting. That this guy that we hired to run our meeting – he knows what he’s doing; this is going to be cool.

There’s a welcome slide that has their name and logo on it. There is a place setting for each one of them (no more, no less; I know exactly how many people to expect) and for each one I have a name tent, a printed agenda, some markers, and some colored paper all ready to go. We’re going to use this colored paper up here on the wall. I’m going to ask them to write their ideas and we’re going to put them all up on the wall, and we’re going to make their plan for the next five years right here. I have my little station setup with my projector and the screen. I’m going to take notes right on the screen.

I’ve given each of them an agenda, but I’ve also provided a copy right at the front of the room so we can all see all day long exactly where we are in the agenda and what’s coming next. Here is their mission statement, the most important thing for a nonprofit organization, front and center throughout the whole meeting. Over here I’ve got my ground rules ready to reveal and explain. Behind that, I’ve got extra sheets of paper for whatever we might need.

I have come to believe that the impression made when somebody first walks into a meeting room actually has an impact on how well the meeting goes. A lot of people walk into a meeting like this and they are already skeptical. They’re afraid that this is going to be a waste of time. And so right from the get-go I am assuring them that this is not going to be a waste of time; that we are going to make good group decisions.

How to decide what you don’t decide

On a Maine island just after a meeting, in this spontaneous 2-minute video Craig explains how to make a plan for deciding things in the future: establish decision criteria in the form of questions.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hey everybody. Hi. It’s Craig Freshley here. I just finished up a meeting on Chebeague Island, Maine.  I was working with a group and before I take the boat home I thought I would tell you something that we talked about.

We made a lot of decisions in today’s meeting, but we didn’t make all the decisions that the organization needs to make, and for those things that we didn’t decide at least we decided how to decide.

We made a list of criteria. We went at it like this. We said, “Well look, when something comes up that you have to make a decision about, what questions will you ask yourself in order to make that decision?” And we listed those questions.

Like, they might get asked if they’re going to do a new program. And if they want to do a new program they’re going to ask themselves: “Does it clearly address our mission? Do we have the current capacity to do it?” And, “How will that impact our capacity? Who else might be able to do that if not us?” Those sort of things.

Pretty simple idea. The idea is that even if you can’t decide everything, at least decide how you’re going to decide. What criteria are you going to use in the future?

Okay. If you look right over here, there’s my boat. It’s about to leave so I better go get on it! Thanks everybody.

Keep your strategic plan off the shelf

The danger of strategic planning is that the plan ends up on a shelf and not used. In this video — shot on location at the Wells Reserve in Southern Maine — Craig explains two techniques for keeping your strategic plan alive.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hey, It’s Craig Freshley here and I am at a pretty special place. This is called the Wells Reserve in Wells, Maine. Over here is the old farmhouse. It was called Laudholm Farm and this place is now an estuarine research reserve. It’s right next to the ocean if you can believe it and all these buildings and land is maintained by a Board of Trustees. They call themselves the Laudholm Trust. Now the folks at Laudholm Trust hired me a couple years ago to help them with a strategic plan.

Here’s the strategic plan that we made and they have asked me to come back now two years later to check in with them about their strategic plan. For those of you who may not be familiar, a strategic plan is really just a fancy way of saying a long-term plan. It’s a thing that a group makes to ensure that they’re all on the same page that they all have a shared understanding of what they’re going to do far into the future.

This group, the Board of Trustees of Laudholm Trust, made a strategic plan with 14 objectives and I’m going to show them to you in a minute here.

One way to keep your strategic plan off the shelf is to organize your operations right along the lines of these objectives and every time you have a board meeting, or every time you have a management team meeting, you share information with each other about how you’re doing according to this organization. See look, they’ve got 14 things and three different areas. This is the basics of their strategic plan.

Now today we are going to have a four-hour meeting and we are going to just roll through these 14 objectives. We’re going to go one at a time and for each objective were going to ask three questions. We’re going to ask ourselves (1) what were the successes, (2) what were the challenges, and (3) for the things that are challenges we’re going to talk about how to make them better. What are our plans for the future making sure those things get done.

In some cases we might decide, you know, “That was a challenge and we don’t even need to do it now or we don’t need to do it in that way because what we thought might work really won’t work.” So we change the plan and that’s okay.

That is another way that we keep strategic plans off-the-shelf. When our practice gets out of line with the plan, we either change our practice or we change the plan. And today we might change this plan a little bit, we’ll see.

The whole idea is if you’re going to make a plan like this, keep alive, keep it off-the-shelf. You know the old saying goes that, “We’re going to make a plan it is just going to sit on the shelf and were never going to pay attention to it.” If that’s what you’re going to do, it’s not worth making it in the first place.

So there are lots of ways to keep your plan lively, keep your plan off the shelf. This group has chosen to invite back the third-party neutral facilitator that helped to make the plan in the first place, and ask them “How did you do with this plan?” In a few minutes we are going to find out how they did on these 14 objectives.


Now look, I want to tell you one more thing.

Right over here, in that barn doorway, there was a meeting. This meeting probably happened 20 years ago. Before I was a professional meeting facilitator I had a very different job but I came to this place. I was part of this meeting and it was a full day meeting and at the end of the meeting the facilitator stood right in that doorway — big crowd of people out here — and he told the group, “Well look, it looks to me like we have heard 10 things today…..” and he went through the 10 things and recapped the whole day. And it was magical. And pretty much at that moment, right here, I decided that’s what I want to do. I want to be a meeting facilitator!

So it’s kind of cool for me to come back here on a beautiful spring day to Laudholm Farm — to the place where I first realized I wanted to be a facilitator — and I’m ago facilitate a meeting.

Thanks a lot everybody. Here’s hoping that you make good group decisions.

Take breaks to make more of your meeting

In this spontaneous video Craig explains 4 reasons why taking a break every 1.5 hours boosts productivity.

“We’re too busy for a break,” rarely works if you are trying to make good group decisions. Craig explains why.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here, in a meeting room of course.

Look, I want to talk a little bit about breaks. Sometimes you’re planning a meeting and somebody will say, “We don’t need a break. People can just come and go as they want it’ll be fine.” Or somebody will say, “We’re going to have a working lunch. We really don’t even need to budget any time to take a break for lunch. We’re going to grab a sandwich and just keep on going.” Somebody will say something like “We are too busy; we got too much to do to take a break. We don’t have time for that.” Well you know — people coming and going in and out of the meeting, grab a sandwich and work right through lunch — that might work for some kinds of meetings but I’m here to tell you that if you are trying to make a group decision — if you really want to roll up your shirtsleeves and work as a group — take a break.

Here are four reasons for actually scheduling and taking a deliberate break. I’m going to tell you the four reasons in just a second.

First of all, when to take a break. My view, built on my experience, is that you should take a break every hour and a half, every two hours at the max. After two hours people’s productivity really goes down in a meeting. And that is reason number one for taking a break in the first place: to sustain productivity. Because like I said, after an hour and a half I can’t concentrate as much, I am not contributing as well as I could be to the meeting; maybe even more importantly I’m not nearly as good a listener. Taking a break allows me to think about something else for a moment. It allows me to check in with the email or whatever that has been bothering me and I’ve been wondering about it. It allows me to go to the restroom and it allows me to get some food and water. Do not underestimate the importance and the value of taking in food and water when you’re using a lot of brainpower to make good group decisions.

Second reason for taking a break. It actually gives the facilitator, or whoever’s running the meeting, some leverage to move the group along. “Okay look, we’re due to take a break in 10 minutes, we’ve got three more ideas to come up with, what are some ideas?” When I’m facilitating a meeting, if there is no break scheduled or no end time scheduled, I don’t have the leverage I need to push the group forward and to motivate them to, like, hurry up and get stuff done!

The third reason — especially if you are making decisions and maybe it’s contentious and you’re, like, in negotiations — taking a break gives people a chance to talk with each other. It is remarkable how those informal little conversations during a break can resolve conflicts. I’ve seen it happen a hundred times. So when somebody says to me that taking a break is inefficient I can be pretty quick to argue that actually, if you’re trying to resolve conflicts, breaks can be very efficient. In fact that is often where the real work happens, as people chat with each other informally outside the meeting on a break. It also gives people a chance to just get to know each other and build relationships. It’s during breaks that people talk about their kids, or their dogs, or their cars, or their vacations, and we get to know each other as real people and that helps resolve conflicts in the meeting. So the third reason is the value of the conversations that happen during a break. When you have an ethic of, everybody come and go however, take your own break whenever you need it, you totally miss that.

By the way, a second thing that happens when you have this ethic of “everybody come and go and take a break when you need it” is people miss — everybody misses — a part of the meeting. And that can really contribute to inefficiency overall. We find we have to repeat things, people come back into the meeting they say things that are clearly based on things that they missed, or they ask dumb questions, or….you’ve all seen it….you know what I’m talking about here. People coming and going out in and out of a meeting that is designed to make good group decisions: that’s inefficient.

Okay got a little tripped up there on reason number three, on to reason number four for taking a break. A break allows the facilitator or the meeting leader to summarize what we just did and make a plan for what’s coming next. You know, the best way for a group to make decisions and move forward is not always the group gathered and talking together. Sometimes it’s one or two people thinking about what the group discussed and making a plan or a proposal for next steps. It’s not a whole group activity, and brakes give opportunities for meeting leaders, facilitators, moderators, to process what was just said and make plans for what comes next. That can be hugely efficient. In fact I really appreciate it when I get that 20 minutes or so every hour and a half, or when I get a lunch break, or when I get an overnight break in a two-day meeting, to be able to summarize what’s been talked about and make a proposal for what happens next. That can move a group forward by leaps and bounds.

So I am making the case that taking a break can be a hugely efficient way to move your group forward and you should not necessarily assume that taking a break is a waste of time.

That’s my take on breaks and here’s hoping that this little talk helps you and your group make good decisions. Thanks a lot everybody. Have a great day!