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The Facilitation Formality

How many times have you, the Scrum Master of your team, facilitated a meeting? For the more seasoned amongst you, I’d imagine that number is likely in the hundreds (if not thousands!). My question to you is this:

Did you facilitate them? Or did you boss them around?

For most people, these two terms are almost synonyms. However, when it comes to the Scrum ‘holy grail’ of a self-organising team, they are miles apart. This blog is going to consider these two stances and propose some practical approaches to improve your practice.

Before you continue with this blog, I would heartily recommend reading Barry Overeem’s 8 Stances of a Scrum Master. It covers the preferred stances every Scrum Master should model when appropriate. I should probably state that my interpretation of the Facilitator is someone who supports discussion points, encourages the room to contribute and is a passive participant. This is in direct contrast to a Boss who determines discussion points (often setting the agenda), imparts their own opinion and who is often commanding the flow of the meeting (note, Boss is NOT one of the preferred stances).

It’s hard to reflect on your own practice and say ‘Yes, I did that’. The truth is though, if you think you’ve never done it, you’re likely lying to yourself. We’ve all had teams whose progress we want to accelerate and often the short-term gain is achieved by becoming the Boss. Now in the short term, there’s nothing wrong with this. After all, teacher/mentor/coach are all hats we need to wear. Over the long term though, the Boss becomes a crutch to the self-organising team whereas the Facilitator becomes a supportive pillar.

If you’re struggling to make the transition from an active to passive participant there are a few things you can try. Have a look at resources like ‘Training from the back of the room’ (Sharon Bowman) and ‘Inside the Black Box’ (Dylan Wiliam) – both of these provide great approaches for stepping back. Bowman focuses on techniques akin to Liberating Structures, and Wiliam focuses on how to assess your team’s progress.

The one I want to specifically cover though is Flipped Learning. It is a pedagogical process that aims to make the learners the problem solvers. Now, I’m not going to go into the detail of the theory (see Flipped Learning if you want to know more) but rather provide some take-away techniques to try in your meetings:

ProblemTry this…
Need to over-structure your agenda to keep the team on track?– Display the goals of each activity – it focuses the team and provides clear value encouraging buy-in.
– Prompt topic starters to ‘bound’ the conversation naturally without needing to butt in.
– Rainbow teams (similar to 1-2-4-ALL technique to establish consensus without overshare).
Have an over-bearing team member who dominates conversation?– Ask them to facilitate alongside you and run agenda items as a passive participant. It allows the team to grow and contribute without fear.
– ‘Randomly’ select an attendee to kick-off the discussion point.
Team not demonstrating respect? Are they talking over one another?– Silent Debate (prompt questions on A1 sheet and colleagues write opinions on them. To disagree, circle opinion and write counter point) – it’s a great way to create respectful conflict).
– Provide participants immediate feedback on their points and empower them to control the room and share.
Techniques to FLIP your meeting

Some of the techniques above have gotten me out of some tricky situations. Even if you don’t think they’ll work for you, the premise of flipping the onus back onto the team to drive their self-organisation and collaboration is surely a good thing? Don’t we all want our teams to be less reliant on us?

I’ll leave the blog with this final note. In future:

Will you facilitate them? Or will you boss them around?


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