Agile 2009: Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns

Facilitation is a key skill in personal and team effectiveness. A facilitator by definition is someone who makes it easier for others to communicate while maintaining a neutral stance themselves. According to Steve “Doc” List, each of us can choose to adopt the role of facilitator whenever we take part in a discussion, be it at work or at home. Doc demonstrates the complexity of good facilitation in his session Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns at Agile 2009.

Attributes of a Good Facilitator

A good facilitator:

  • Creates an open environment so others can make decisions during the discussions.
  • Recognises disruptive behaviour within a group and does something about it (using The Facilitation Four-Step – see below for more details).
  • Has no authority.

Good facilitation, according to Doc, means ‘dealing with attitudes and behaviours that lead to more effective meetings so that meetings become more productive and even enjoyable’. It’s not the facilitator’s responsibility to work on motivating others. Instead, a good facilitator recognises negative behaviour and deals with it in a respect way to all those involved.

The Role-Playing Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns Game

The theory on good facilitation was brought to life by Doc’s meeting game attended by stereotypical meeting-goers.

The game is made up of 13 types of personas (also known as Patterns and Antipatterns depending on your role as meeting facilitator or participant). Each persona has distinct motivations:

  • The Benevolent Dictator: ‘I know what’s best for all of you.’
  • The Guide: ‘I’m here to hold the lamp and show the way.’
  • The Gladiator: ‘It’s all about the combat!’
  • Curious George: ‘I’m here to ask not tell.’
  • Professor Moriarty: ‘The end, if it’s what I want, justifies the means.’
  • The Conclusion Jumper: ‘I don’t need to hear everything you have to say – I’ve got it!’
  • The Orator: ‘I’m worth listening to.’
  • The Superhero: ‘I’m here to rescue you.’
  • Sherlock Holmes: ‘With enough information, we can reach a conclusion.’
  • The Repetitor: ‘It’s worth repeating. It’s worth repeating. It’s worth repeating.’
  • Switzerland: ‘It’s not up to me.’
  • Be Yourself: [Insert your own motto here]
  • The Facilitator: Persona who facilitates a practice meeting.

The first round of the game involved each player randomly drawing a card and playing out their persona during a meeting on a given topic (eg ‘We should use Scrum instead of XP’). The player who draws the Facilitator card plays the role of meeting facilitator. The aim of the game is for the group to guess who was playing which persona. Then we played a second round, with each player drawing two cards (instead of only one) and playing both their personas during the meeting. This duality gave each player an additional dimension which made divining the characters based on their behaviours much more difficult.

The Facilitation Four-Step

The Four-Step is useful for faciltators when dealing with negative behaviour during a meeting. Doc recommends taking the following actions when the meeting becomes blocked:

  1. Interrupt – Stop the speaker in mid-flow in as polite and as respectful a way as possible.
  2. Ask – Ask the speaker to sum up or clarify their point.
  3. Redirect – Ask others to share their points-of-view.
  4. Commit – Return to the original speaker and double-check with them that they are happy to move in the direction of the rest of the group.

What I Liked About the Session

  • The game successfully highlights the importance of what Doc refers to as ‘Collaborative Conversations’, conversations that have 2-way flow, involving talking and listening.
  • The game is an excellent example of how experiential learning enables us to gain a deeper understanding of how and why certain skills and techniques work in the real world.
  • The session reminds us of the importance of self-awareness, empathy and moderation if we are to play the role of facilitator effectively.

What Would Make the Session Perfect

  • I would have liked to play more rounds to improve my facilitation skills.
  • I would have liked to learn more about the manifestations of combined personas embodied by an individual and how to deal with the behaviour they exhibit.
  • I would have liked to learn more about the personas in terms of Patterns and Antipatterns depending on your role as meeting facilitator or participant.

2 Responses to “Agile 2009: Facilitation Patterns and Antipatterns”

  1. Doc List writes:

    It was a delight to have you and Pascal at my session. The feedback from both of you has been very helpful, and I expect the session to improve as a result.

    Many thanks!

  2. Agile 2009 Day 2 Review « CDS 43 writes:

    […] I also found the following blog post on this session: […]

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