Agenda Goals and Objectives

Have an agenda and objectives. Post them on large charts in a prominent place. Use them as a frequent reminders: the goals and objectives remind all that the group has a purpose in meeting and the agenda reminds them that some thought was given to how to achieve the purpose. When building your agenda, always know what you're going to do with the output of any activity or exercise.

If you don't know in advance what the meeting is about, the first thing you do with the group is gather ideas from them and build the charts. Ask people to state the problem and write down their proffered problem statements. Monitor the group responses to the ideas: sometimes one participant's way of stating the problem will resonate with the group, other times you will have to use voting or some other technique to prioritize the problems. At this and every other point, be explicit about getting the group to agree to the process. If you're going to vote, get consensus that voting is okay: otherwise find another way of coming to a choice.

It is key that you be sure the group understands that, while there may be many pressing problems, nothing will get done if they don't work on one problem at a time. They are only selecting the first one to work on, not the one and only one that they will ever get a chance to do anything about.

Once they've agreed to work on a problem, use a similar process to get them to agree on an approach to solving the problem. As you gain experience and knowledge as a facilitator, you will have a number of tools in your toolbox that you can offer as problem solving approaches. But I find it best to see if there are ideas from within the group. They will have greater understanding and ownership of something they're familiar with, and we cannot overemphasize the importance of buy-in.

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, "Of the best leader, when the job is done the people say 'we did it ourselves.'

At every opportunity, the skilled facilitator risks the group not recognizing her contribution by letting them provide not only all the content input but as much process input as possible. Besides, I find this is a great way for me to learn new techniques!

However you arrive at your objectives (problem statement) and agenda (way of proceeding), once you have them posted, get the group to agree to them. Give them a chance to add or modify objectives and agenda items. Once the group has agreed to the objectives and agenda, don't let participants stray from them for very long without asking the group to either return to working on them or explicitly agree to changes in them.