Facilitation is one of the core skills possessed by an Agile Coach and a Scrum Master. From Tactical coaching of a team to Strategic coaching of an entire organization facilitation is a useful tool that enables you to deliver value fast.

Facilitation skills help make the individuals in a team to collaborate better, to achieve mutual consensus, navigate conflicts and help increase the awareness and productivity of a team. Whether it’s the team’s performance, timely delivery of product increments, team morale or release confidence a great facilitator can have a significant effect.

It takes years to master the skill of Facilitation and you’ll be amazed to know how few people are actually an expert. While training others about facilitation techniques I like to adopt the mindtools.com definition below:

What a facilitator does is plan, guide and manage a group event to ensure that the group’s objectives are met effectively, with clear thinking, good participation and full buy-in from everyone who is involved.

Meetings that lack facilitation have just one style which is what I call “open conversation” or “open discussion”. It happens like this: you walk in, everyone is sitting and taking private notes and occasionally talk about the issues and the ideas. Below are some of the most common and creative facilitation techniques employed by an Agile Coach or a Scrum Master.

Post-it brainstorming

Use this technique when you want to create new ideas, suggestions, solutions or to engage everyone together.. This technoque can be used like below:

Defining the problem.

Pin up 3 flip charts on an empty wall.

Give everyone in the room 3×5 post-it notepads and pens. Ask them to write one idea per post-it note. Start with everyone silently writing the ideas. The team then post their ideas on the wall one at a time with each person reading their ideas out loud while posting them. When run out of ideas ask the team to group the ideas into themes or features.

Call out session

In this exercise you stand in front of the team and ask the team members to bring up their issues one at a time. As the issues come up write them on a flip chart for everyone to look at. In the end ask the team to prioritize the issues and discuss them one at a time.

Breakout

Use it when you have a lot of items to cover in a single session.

Divide the number of people in the room into sub-groups. Each group works on a separate set of requirements or themes which in the end is converged into a single set. Each group then reviews the other team’s work to gain consensus on a particular approach to do things. This kind of parallel work helps breaking the meeting time and cuts it down tremendously.

Straw or Dot Voting

This technique can be used for the following:

  • To zero in on ideas from a long list.
  • For prioritizing various issues or topics for discussion.
  • To gain consensus from a group.

Give everyone 3 dots and ask them to pick their favourites from a list of items by sticking dots. The items can be anything, for example “the stories to pick for the next sprint”. They can use their dots in whichever way they like. They can even put all dots on one item if they choose to. The items with most dots are later discussed by the team as a whole.

This activity helps in cutting tremendous time in arguing or if there is a conflict selecting a solution. The Agile Coach or Scrum Master should establish an agreement in the beginning saying, “We’re just going to agree with the majority vote”.

Mind Mapping

More used in personal space this technique can be used with a group to capture thoughts, ideas and issues and then making these visible back to them just in time. Capturing and then connecting various ideas this way helps the team explore the possibilities and approaches that may not be possible otherwise. Mindmapping is brain friendly as it allows easy recalling of the items discussed.

This technique can be used for things like “Cause-Effect Analysis“, whice requires ideas from various perspectives or to break requirements into smaller themes or epics that are easy to acknowledge and easy to act upon. This can even be used effectively to prioritize the retrospective action items that requires to be acted upon in the next Sprint.

Fishbowl

Having a discussion that matters can be difficult in case it involves discussing contovercial topics or where the team members refuse to interact with each other. Fishbowl is a technique which helps in such situations by establishing certain rules or norms for participation.

Fishbowl starts by having a fixed number of chairs in a room and the people who want to participate in the discussion have to fill all the cairs leaving one chair empty. If a new person who wants to participate sits on the vacant chair someone who is already sitting would have to volunteer to get up. This helps discussing an issue from multiple perspectives and keeps the dominators from taking over the discussion.

To help curb the interaction problem multiple chairs can be left empty. This will gently force people to volunteer themselves to participate feeling obligated to do so. People who are watching will feel motivated to join in.


There are numerous other techniques and having a bunch in your coaching toolkit will help you to build a collaborative environment. Below are some linkes that can help you explore more on this topic.

Links to explore

Retrospective

Mind Maps