A good facilitator can get to the heart of a matter – or the core of a business – simply by asking the right questions. Of course, asking the right questions requires that you’ve done some research on the organization and their competition in advance. But again, don’t go in with assumptions; that research should only serve to lead you to the right questions (the answers should come from the group, not from you).
I have a series of questions that I tailor to clients. Some aren’t appropriate for certain organizations, and sometimes there are obvious questions that need to be asked that are outside of the norm. A planning session for me almost always includes a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis as well as discussions about services offerings and target audience (who are they, what are they looking for, what motivates them, how they make decisions). There should also be a discussion about the competition (not just immediate competitors; think about other sources and solutions to the problems of the audience). Why should someone choose your solution over the competition? This is a critical question to ask but can often be the most difficult to answer, so save it for the right time. (Don’t lead with a question that challenging.)
Sometimes it is just as important to ask what I call the Converse Questions: “What are you NOT?” “What services will you NOT provide?” “Who are you NOT trying to reach?” One client recently said, “I don’t like thinking in the negative,” but after we went through the exercise, he understood the value in it. We were able to carve out a niche market for him by identifying his NOTs.
Capture every contribution on your flip chart for all to see. If you have a large and/or particularly responsive group, you will likely need to do some prioritizing of responses to help you identify the most important issues. I always keep a pack of colored markers with me and give one color to each participant in the room. I give them a certain number of votes (e.g., “You have three votes. Cast them on what you believe are the most important issues.”). After the voting, I give participants the opportunity to make another case for what they believe in, particularly if it was not a top vote-getter. It is rare in my experience that people will do this; after everyone sees the votes, consensus usually comes naturally. The point of this exercise is to ensure that everyone is – and feels – heard.
Next Facilitation Segment: Closing Thoughts
Carol Reeve, Girl on the Roof