Facilitating a group of people with different hopes, dreams, and ideas can be a rewarding and exciting experience. However, it is not without its challenges. One of the best ways to keep the facilitation experience positive is to take the agile approach and turn it into a mindset.
From morning routines to meeting schedules, agile as a mindset can help you strive for continuous improvement in everything you do. Including growing as a facilitator.
We have spoken to hundreds of agile coaches and expert facilitators, and there is one thing they will all tell you: there is no such thing as the perfect retrospective facilitator. Wait. What? Let me explain.
"You have to create your facilitation style"
Leslie Riley, 5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Facilitating
There are definitely great facilitators and their tactics vary based on the team, topic of conversation, and other factors that may impact the flow of conversation.
As Leslie said, all great facilitators share one common characteristic - they have their own facilitation style.
Some experienced facilitators use stories and art supplies to encourage participation while others use advanced tools and complex techniques. Whatever style you develop, one of the first steps to becoming a successful facilitator is not learning a perfect technique.
Instead, you should focus on how to help your team engage in the discussion through active listening, understanding body language and other nonverbal cues, and noting energy levels. Then you should ask questions that lead the team to complete a common goal or create a needed SMART goal.
Now you might find yourself wondering, is facilitation really just about asking questions? Isn't the job of the facilitator to arrange the meeting time, alert meeting participants, organize any activities, make sure each agenda item is addressed.
The short answer is, it can be. But remember as an agile facilitator, you are striving for continuous improvement. And while a novice facilitator can create an effective meeting, a truly successful facilitator creates a productive and safe space for an in-depth discussion that helps meeting attendees leave with an actionable item or goal to work towards before the next meeting.
As an expert facilitator, Leslie Riley explains, being an effective facilitator does not require having all the answers. Simply asking the team, "I don't know, what do you think?" can be a meaningful prompt to improving engagement and encouraging conversation.
Retrospective facilitators are in a unique position. Specifically designed to look at what is holding teams back, unsuccessful retrospectives can devolve into an hour of the blame game or an exercise in how not to participate in a meeting which is a waste of time for everyone involved.For meeting leaders, turning the retrospective around from an ineffective meeting to a successful brainstorming session means creating a space that promotes psychological safety.
"To help us get in the right mindset, I start each retrospective by reciting the prime directive by Norm Keith, 'Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what was known at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.’"
Kat Critchen-Seager, Head of Engineering ClickMechanic
Creating a psychologically safe environment needed to improve retrospective discussion and action-item development doesn't happen overnight. If you'd like to read more about how the strategies in-office, hybrid, and remote teams can use to create a safe environment for open discussion, click here to read the chapter on Psychological Safety in our Ultimate Guide To Agile Retrospectives.
The strategies outlined there have been field-tested to help both experienced and novice facilitators improve their meeting facilitation skills and adapt their practices to help teams focus on the meeting objective and greater sprint goals.And one of the easiest ways for facilitators to see better engagement is to find a tool that helps you focus not just on the setup of a retrospective, but how to run an amazing retrospective.