Principle: Everything Fails at the Interfaces

Everything Fails at the Interfaces.jpg

Last week, I was facilitating an offsite for a technology division of a federal agency. The purpose of the offsite was to welcome a new leader and “norm” as a group (following Tuckman’s Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing-Adjourning model.) The participants were there to talk about their values, operating principles, rhythms, roles and responsibilities, and most importantly, how they communicated and how communication had broken down in the past.

Suddenly and without warning, one of the participants shouted, “DAMMIT! Not again!” After receiving stares and good-natured teasing from his colleagues, he sheepishly explained that his coffee cup had leaked, and not for the first time. Different cups, same leak: the seam at the bottom of the cup had unglued. He apologized for his outburst and said, “Everything fails at the interfaces.”

This sparked a reflective conversation from the group. The principle that “everything fails at the interfaces” is a reminder to technologists to first look for failures at the seams where pieces of technology come together. The principle immediately resonated with me from my days as a builder: in construction: if there’s going to be a flaw, it won’t be in the middle of the wall, or the middle of the floor, or the middle of the ceiling. It will be where the pieces and parts come together.

The principle of “Everything Fails at the Interfaces” became the guiding principle for the offsite. It encouraged the group to remember that, while individuals may be doing good work off on their own, challenges will occur when trying to operate as a team. By extension, individuals may be completely justified in their own head, but when it comes to interpreting the actions of others, the tendency is to react, to make up stories, to pass judgment, and to fall out of partnership.

Groups intuitively know when something’s not working, but may not be able to put their finger on what exactly what’s broken. So they say things like, “We have a communications problem,” or “We need to prioritize,” or “We don’t know what the vision is,” or even, “That guy’s a jerk.” Chances are, what they’re actually experiencing is a failure at the interfaces between each other.

How do you explain graphic facilitation?

Our work is visual, so it can be tough to describe it to anyone who hasn’t seen it. If I’m trying to describe it as part of a discovery meeting, I will ALWAYS pull up an image of graphic recording or graphic facilitation in context of a group meeting and speak to that.

Sometimes I’ll get asked about the value or return on investment of using visuals. The person who asks this sort of question is likely a strong Sensor (following Myers-Briggs), and so I list the following:

"It has three major benefits. First, studies show that it improves consensus in groups by 22%. Second, it improves retention by 17% just by having it in the room, but it also produces tangible takeaways. I'll scan the charts and email them back to you when we're done. Third, it actually speeds up meeting time by 24%, but usually this translates to being able to cover a lot more material."

(Here's the studies that those numbers come from:


When I introduce graphic recording or graphic facilitation prior to a meeting, I typically add: "A couple of rules. First, I'm going to have my back to you. I'm not trying to be rude, I just can't draw over my shoulder. So I may not know who said what, or be able to remember names very well. Second, my markers don't come with spell check. If I get something wrong, just pass me a note or shout at me. Third, this is YOUR PAPER. If you have an idea that you want to sketch out, please jump up and use this paper. That's what it's here for. Often, when participants draw their ideas, that's what really moves the group. And that way, your ideas become part of the record."


Drawing for VideoScribe Whiteboard Animation

This video shares a workflow for preparing drawings for Sparkol’s VideoScribe, an application that produces whiteboard animations. We cover sketching and drawing in Photoshop, mapping paths in Illustrator, and animating in VideoScribe. Our discussion also includes techniques and time savers, setting expectations with clients, sharing the workload with colleagues, and balancing time and quality.

Thanks to Wade Forbes for sharing his insights, asking excellent questions, and for his permission to share this video broadly.

Energizer: The Fake Australian Vacation

Here's a 3-minute energizer for participants to practice active listening, constructive dialogue, joining language, and improvisation.

"Pair off. You and the person sitting next to you are about to take a vacation to Australia, and you're planning what you're going to do once you arrive. Have one person begin by suggesting something you both might do together. From there on out, the only constraint is that every following sentence must begin with the words, 'yes, and.' Continue suggesting ideas back and forth for the next three minutes."

I first saw the Fake Australian Vacation facilitated by Robert Gibson of Volunteers of America in Dallas, Texas at the VOA National Conference in April 2017.

Cognitive Bias Bingo

In case you missed the blog post on Recognizing Cognitive Bias, a cognitive bias is a mental shortcut that can covertly influence decisions.

We like to think that we make decisions analytically and impartially. In fact, most of our decision-making processes fly under the radar of our conscious awareness. Gaining awareness of theses biases is an important step to overcoming them.

This gameboard lists 25 common cognitive biases and heuristics. Print a copy, and the next time you’re in a position to quietly observe a group discussion, check off which of the biases below you observe that may be at work.

Just try to avoid shouting “bingo!” when you get five in a row.

I was introduced to cognitive biases by UFMCS, the Army's Red Team School, and by Bryce Hoffman, author of Red TeamingFor more on cognitive biases, check out the chapter "The Psychology of Red Teaming" in the book Red Teaming by Bryce Hoffman. Content from Red Teaming appears on the Cognitive Bias Bingo gameboard, and is used with permission from Bryce Hoffman. 

Ender: One Word Checkouts

figure One Word.png

A One Word Checkout is a light, fast activity to end an event and give participants one final word.

”Please describe in one word the mood in which you are leaving. Anyone can start. And if you kick us off, you get to pick right or left, and that’s the directions we’ll go around the room. Who would like to start?” Then, your role as facilitator is to track and indicate the next person to speak by an open hand, inviting, or eye contact.

Often, one eager person will say a word to begin, but will forget to choose a direction. In that case, just remind them by asking, “And which direction would you like to go?” 

It doesn’t take long to go around a room of up to thirty or so participants. For groups larger than thirty, you can ask participants to go around their tables in parallel. Or, you can give all the participants a few seconds to think of a word, then ask everyone call out the word simultaneously. 

One Word Checkouts are one last opportunity for participants to empty their backpack. In addition, they provide real time feedback on the facilitation.  

A word of caution: don’t overinterpret the words you hear. “Tired” is a common checkout word, and may simply mean a participant has been using muscles to do group work that they’re not used to exercising, or that the introverts have had to spend time in extravert space, or vice versa. Words like “frustrated” or “upset” are an opportunity for a one-on-one check in after the event.  

Invariable, some participants will use more than one word. After that happens, gently use humor to remind participants of the one-word rule by saying “We’ll just assume that was hyphenated.” 

You could use One Word Checkouts for something other than mood, such as, “Say one word to describe how the day went for you,” but I believe that’s pulling the punch of having participants intentionally focus on their own emotional self awareness. Even if the entire event has been process-focused and primarily in the head, shifting  to focus on the heart is a healthy counter-balance.

I first saw One Word Checkouts used by Elise Yanker of Collaborative Consulting Inc. 

Recognizing Cognitive Bias

Cognitive biases influence how you think and what you decide, and it happens without you even knowing. They are part of your mental source code: the operating system that runs beneath the level of your own conscious thought and awareness. 

  • When you feel compelled to go along with the group's decision, that's bandwagon effect.
  • When you believe others place the same value on the same things you do, that's endowment bias.
  • When you pay more attention to people (or news sources) that you already agree with, that's confirmation bias.
  • When you hear about disasters that befell others but believe it can't possibly happen to you, that's hindsight bias.
  • When you draw conclusions based on your own outlook on the world, that's framing bias. The phrase "a hammer looking for a nail," refers to framing bias. 

Here's an example of biases at work in a clip from the movie Spectral, available on Netflix. The story thus far: Clyne, a DARPA expert in optics, is brought into a hostile country to assess the mysterious death of a soldier during a peacekeeping mission. The death was captured on a hyperspectral camera that Clyne designed, but the image is unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Clyne is about to be shown the video by Fran, a CIA analyst, and the CO, General Orland. The video is all the information they have to go on, and they have to decide and what is happening and report on it.

Watch the video below and see if YOU can identify which of these biases is at work.

I was introduced to cognitive biases by UFMCS, the Army's Red Team School, and by Bryce Hoffman, author of Red TeamingFor more on cognitive biases, check out the chapter "The Psychology of Red Teaming" in the book Red Teaming by Bryce Hoffman, where he identifies twenty-five cognitive biases and heuristics.

For more practice after you've identified the bias, try identifying which of Kantor's Four Players are at work on this worksheet.

For more on the Four Player model, check out The Kantor Institute and Team Catapult.

Principle: Trim Tabs

Trying to change an organization can be daunting. With all its mass and inertia, how do you move an entire organization?

The rudders of some large ships are designed with little or no mechanical force behind them. No pneumatics, no motors, nothing that would physically swing the rudder from side to side. Instead, they have trim tabs: small control surfaces that direct the force of the ocean against the rudder, which then moves and turns the ship. 

In any organization, there are influential people who can be thought of as trim tabs. They aren't necessarily managers and supervisors, but they are definitely leaders in their own right. Rather than trying to move an entire organization, first find the trim tabs.

The trim tabs in an organization are the Innovators and Early Adopters.

For more on Innovators and Early Adopters, check out Simon Sinek's Start With Why and Chris McGoff's The Primes

I first heard the metaphor of trim tabs from Laurie Durnell of the Grove Consultants. 


Refiner: Using Filters to Design a Decision Model

Analyzing options and deciding between those options take place in different areas of the brain. Analysis is rational, logical, and language-based. Deciding is intuitive and driven by gut feeling. Creating a decision model is a way to blend both analysis and intuition. It pulls decision making out of the black box of intuition and into the plain view of the group.

  1. Begin by giving the decision model a title that labels its overall purpose. For example, the purpose may be to decide initiatives for a strategic plan, or where to focus R&D resources, or prioritize a backlog of change requests.
  2. Have participants list a dozen or so options, writing each one on a sticky note. Place these stickies on the left side of a whiteboard.
  3. Draw a series of diamonds from left to right across the whiteboard. Explain to participants that a decision model is like a vacuum cleaner with a series of filters. The goal is to create filters that are porous enough to let the right options pass through and dense enough to catch the less-desirable options. Ask participants to write two or three options that they clearly do NOT want to make it through the model to use to test the model and place them with the other options on the left of the whiteboard.
  4. Have participants brainstorm criteria for the decision model. Cluster similar criteria. For example, a group might say, “We need to make sure that what we do is valuable.” Write VALUE at the top of one of the diamonds. Ask the group how they might define value. “Customers are willing to pay for the service.” “At least half of our existing customer base will use it.” Write down those details underneath the word VALUE and in the diamond.
  5. Pick up a sticky and move it to the first filter. Ask, “Is this option VALUABLE?” quickly followed by “Are customers willing to pay for it?” Watch the reaction of the group. If it’s a unanimous yes, move on to the next question. If it’s a unanimous no, leave the sticky where it got “stuck” by the filter. If there’s disagreement, ask the group to refine the criteria. Do they need to define the amount customers are willing to pay? The object here is not to pass the options through the filters, but rather to refine the filters. Test the filters by using the two or three options clearly NOT wanted.
  6. Limit criteria to answering only one question at a time. Try to limit criteria to binary (yes/no) results. For example, “Will more than half of our customers use it” is better than “how many customers will use it.” Again, adjust the criteria if too many or too few options are passing through the criteria: “Will more than 75% of our customers use it?”

Iterate on the decision criteria by passing different options through the filters. At first, the goal will be to create a baseline decision model, not make decisions. Over time and after several iterations, participants will become comfortable using the decision model for its intended purpose.

One variation of this method is to give thought to the horizontal placement of filters against one large factor, such as placing “must do” criteria on the left and “nice to have” criteria on the right. This results in options being organized from left-to-right against that large factor.

When considering different projects or initiatives as options, here are some criteria to consider:

  • Is the option valuable? Is someone willing to pay for it?
  • Will X number or percentage of our customers buy it?
  • Is the option rare? Does it not already exist somewhere in the marketplace?
  • Will it be difficult for a competitor to duplicate the option?
  • Are we organized in a way that can execute the option?
  • Can we afford it? Do we have the resources available? (time, knowledge, money, facilities, supply chains, workforce)
  • Does it help us achieve our vision, mission, or purpose? Does it align with our values? Does it align with our brand?

Participants may resist the process of designing a decision model. This is usually because the model doesn’t pass their own “gut sense” intuition, or because the model will have outcomes that are not in their favor. In either case, participants must feel safe enough and have sufficient self-awareness to bring those reactions out into the room and make them explicit, which can shine a light on new aspects of the decision model.

Help design a ruler made just for sketchnoting!

Hi there!

Quick disclaimer: this ISN'T purely a graphic facilitation method, so if that's the #1 reason you subscribed to Think With Ink, no need to read further. But, this IS a chance to practice design thinking, paper prototyping, and crowd-sourcing feedback, not to mention a chance to design a tool that you may end up using yourself.

The quick story thus far: at an innovation workshop, I met Victor, a guy who machines small metal tools as a hobby. Who knew that was a thing? After seeing me sketchnote and graphic facilitate, we brainstormed the idea of a ruler made specifically for sketchnoting. I floated the idea past a few folks (including Mike Rohde!), got feedback, and have been testing and iterating on a paper prototype since then. Here's the current design:

Little Metal Ruler v02 Callouts.png

Want to be part of designing it? Here's how!

  1. Download this AI or PDF version of the ruler.
  2. Print and transfer it to chipboard, thick card stock, or even a file folder. I think the easiest way to do it is to print the ruler on a label, then stick the label on to something more rigid.
  3. Cut out the ruler and the finger pivot. Punch the holes along the center line with a pin. Except for the finger pivot, you don't have to cut out the other shapes unless you really want to.
  4. Try it out for a while!
  5. Provide your feedback on features on this Google Sheet

We'll post updates to the design and the project in the Google Sheet.

Thanks for participating!

Virtual Facilitation Webinar

We've seen more growth in demand for our virtual facilitation than for any other service we offer. Thanks to the Grove's Rachel Smith and her course, Facilitating Virtual Collaboration, Lizard Brain Solutions has been sought out to provide virtual facilitation nearly as much as in-the-room facilitation. 


On January 19, 2018, we delivered a 75-minute workshop on virtual facilitation to the Mid-Atlantic Facilitators' Network. In addition quick scan on methods available for virtual facilitation, we harvested the  knowledge from the group to collect:

If you couldn't attend, not to worry - here's a link to the PowerPoint slides we shared, as well as a video recording of the workshop:

Sketchnote Basics

Sketchnoting is a great way to up your visual note-taking game and practice graphic recording in the small scale. The definitive work on sketchnoting is The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde.

Last year, Mike gave Lizard Brain Solutions permission to produce this one-pager on the basic elements of sketchnoting. Here's a high-resolution PDF version; please use and distribute it freely. To see examples and join the community of sketchnoters, check out

Design: Microvideos

A microvideo is a short video to tell a story.

MODEL Microvideos.jpg

With smart phones and tablets, nearly everyone has a movie studio at their fingertips.  A three-minute-or-less microvideo that carries the same content as a slideshow, but surprises and engages viewers. More importantly, microvideos can communicate a large amount of information quickly, whereas slideshows can be interrupted by questions or comments that often would have been answered later in the presentation. Microvideos can help achieve a shared understanding more quickly than slideshows, providing more space and context for purposeful discussion afterwards.

Explainer video on how to create microvideos. Microvideos are an easy visual method to communicate ideas.

There are two types of microvideos:

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Both depend on telling a great story.


And both depend on having a solid visual vocabulary.

Visual Vocabulary.jpg

Here's how to make both kinds of microvideos:


Want to use microvideos in a group setting and have participants create them as a deliverable? Just have them scan this QR code:


UPDATE: Here's the  recorded video from a NOVA Scribes webinar teaching microvideos!

With microvideos, you can tell stories, capture audiences, and let loose your inner Spielberg.

Principle of the Hedgehogs


The Principle of the Hedgehogs is a way to introduce to the group to the balance between being reserved and opening up. Hedgehogs must find the right distance from each other to both enjoy warmth and not get pricked by spines. Likewise, participants must find the right distance between guardedness and collegiality.

Ask the group: we all have our professional selves and our most authentic, “shoes of” selves. To be successful in what we want to achieve, where is the right balance for this group?

The Principle of the Hedgehogs comes from Arthur Schopenhauer.

Opening: Brainstorming

 Want to share this as a handout with participants? Click here!

Brainstorming? Be visual!

Brainstorming? Be visual!

Brainstorming was popularized in 1953 by Alex F. Osborn, but despite its longevity and popularity, it’s often misunderstood and poorly executed. Thoughtfully facilitated, a brainstorming session can move a group from derailing criticism to generative collaboration.  Classic brainstorming has four rules:

1. Go for quantity. The purpose in harvesting a large number of ideas is to push past the obvious and think creatively. Quantity breeds quality: the more ideas there are, the greater the chance that one of them will be really good. Set a target goal (100 ideas) in a certain time period (60 minutes.)

2. Withhold criticism. Do not interrupt, critique, or question. Simply capture what’s said. Create a space of safety to encourage everyone to share. Acknowledge, then move on to the next idea. Make space for quiet people by asking, “Can we hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet?”

3. Welcome wild ideas. Wild ideas spark creativity. If an idea sounds ridiculous, challenge yourself to remain open and curious. Ask yourself questions like, “How might I adapt what I’m hearing? What ideas does this generate for me?” Think divergently. For now, abandon the typical constraints.

4. Build on the ideas of others. Use joining language: say “and” instead of “but.” Do not only share new ideas. Use the idea that came before to conceive a new idea. 

Since Osborn, conditions for successful brainstorming have been added:

  • Stay focused. Divergent thinking is fun, but try to stay focused on the topic, otherwise conversations can drift outside of scope.
  • One conversation at a time. Wait a beat before sharing the next idea. Encourage active listening. Make space for more quiet team members.
  • Be visual. Draw a quick icon on a sticky note to create a stronger mental model of your idea. Drawings convey ideas faster and more concretely than words. It doesn’t have to be pretty! Use a visual vocabulary as a reference. 

In her book Quiet, Susan Cain lists three fallacies of brainstorming. Keep them in mind to avoid pitfalls which can result in shutting out both people and ideas. If you notice a fallacy, here are some suggested solutions:

  • Fallacy: Social loafing. In a group, some individuals tend to sit back and let others do the work. Solution: Use a round robin, serial share, or brainwriting, where participants share ideas in sequence.
  • Fallacy: Production blocking. Only one person can talk or produce an idea at once, while the other group members are forced to sit passively. Solution: Break the large group into smaller groups, pairs, or individuals. Task participants to generate ideas in their breakouts, then bring those ideas back to the large group. Harvest written sticky notes to encourage brevity.
  • Fallacy: Evaluation apprehension. The fear of looking stupid in front of one's peers. Solution: Use ground rules and principles to set up a place of safety and respect. Harvest written sticky notes anonymously.

Energizer: Heuristics

Maybe you've seen the 9-dot/4-line version of this puzzle, but have you seen the 16-dot/6-line version?

From Francis D.K. Ching's "Drawing: A Creative Process" 

From Francis D.K. Ching's "Drawing: A Creative Process" 

This visual energizer highights heuristics: the different approaches different people take to problem solving.

Share this challenge with a group and turn them loose to solve it. Ask them to call out "Done!" once it's solved. Give no other instructions than to solve the challenge. Then watch what happens.  

Some individuals will go head down and try to solve it on their own. Some will try to work with others. Some will solve it quickly. After 10-20% of the participants have solved it, stop the exercise and ask a few people to share their solutions with the group. Compare results. Are they the same or different?

Then ask participants to share their approaches to solving the problem. HOW did they go about finding the solution? Did they try it on their own, or collaborate with others? Did they first think about in their heads, or immediately put pen to paper?  Had they seen the 9-dot/4-line version somewhere and try to apply that solution? Did they wait until someone else figured it out, then copied? Did they get frustrated and give up? Did they Google it? 

What matters here is not the solution so much as the different approaches that participants took to solving the problem. Heuristics are the unique approaches individuals take to problem solving. APPLYING those heuristics will produce solutions that are more accurate, creative, and widely accepted. This touches directly on the value of diverse and inclusive teams.

I first saw Joe Gerstandt use the 9-dot/4-line version of this puzzle applied to heuristics. What I like about this 16-dot/6-line version is that fewer people have seen it before, so they really have to work to solve it.  Also, THIS version has several solutions, whereas the 9-dot/4-line version only has one. There's also a lesson to be drawn from gathering MANY solutions rather than stopping with the first "RIGHT" solution.

PS: Here's two solutions. There are several. It took several sticky notes to get to this point. 

PS: Here's two solutions. There are several. It took several sticky notes to get to this point. 

The Paris Principle

Clustering and categorizing ideas occurs in nearly every facilitation. Sometimes, participants will argue about what the categories should be. Too much argument over categories is like spending time figuring out ways to slice a pie rather than actually eating it.

The Paris Principle is a way to explain the value of choosing categories that make the most sense to the most people. When queuing up a clustering activity, ask the group,

"If all I told you was, 'Meet me in Paris,' where would you go?"


See what responses you get. Most people will say, "the Eiffel Tower." But there are bound to be other answers. Here's a few other responses I've heard:

  • "Charles de Gaulle airport, because it's easiest to get to."
  • "The Louvre. Going to the Louvre is on my bucket list."
  • "There is this one café I always go to when I'm in Paris. If we're friends and you know me, then you'd know to meet me there."
  • "Paris, Texas. Bet that's not the answer you were expecting, huh?"
  • "I wouldn't go. Not enough information to justify the plane ticket."

Once the group has swirled a little, explain that...

"When you're choosing categories for these ideas, what matters is that they're easily, quickly understood by everyone. You could argue about why Charles de Gaulle airport or any of the other options is the 'best' answer for one reason or another, but what most people will choose is the Eiffel Tower. Choosing a clear organizing structure is especially important if we're going to have to share our work with people who aren't in the room. So, as you think about how to organize these ideas, choose categories that are the most obvious. 'Obvious' is just another way to say 'easily understood.'"

After you've introduced the Paris Principle, draw a poster of the Eiffel Tower as a reminder to point back to. 

paris principle.jpg

PS: If you're facilitating the group through self-work, there will be plenty of feedback opportunities that arise from their answers to the "where would you go" question. Ask the group to connect specific answers back to behavioral models such as the Keirsey Temperments, Myers-Briggs, DiSC, or FIRO-B. 

Visual Note-Taking Workshop Materials

Heather Lynn Osborn-Herbert, Lisa Nelson, Erin Gordon, and Caryn Ginsberg and I recently presented a workshop on visual note-taking to over a hundred secondary school teachers. We taught mindmapping and sketchnoting, and challenged them to come up with ways to make their classes more visual. Here's the video:

It's my hope that visual practitioners not only provide their skills, but also teach their skills to others. Please feel free to use, modify, and distribute any of this content!

Handout on mindmapping

Handout on sketchnoting

Visual Note-Taking slides

Thanks to Heather Lynn Osborn-Herbert, Lisa Nelson, Erin Gordon, and Caryn Ginsberg for volunteering their time to help graphic record the session. Thanks to Mark Tarallo and the Nysmith School for video recording.

Special thanks to Heather Lynn Osborn-Herbert for her video editing!

"It's Like Jazz" - The Five Essentials of Dynamic Facilitation

Jazz hands.

Jazz hands.

While on an extended project, I got to my desk one morning to find a sticky note saying, "Brian: be at the large conference room at 8AM." That was it, no other explanation or instruction. It was ten minutes until eight. Work there usually started at around 8:30, so I felt lucky that I happened to arrive early that day. My gut told me I might want to bring a roll of paper and some markers, just in case. At that time, I wasn't a full-time facilitator.

I got to the conference room a few minutes later and sat down at a huge table along with about thirty other people. At 8AM, my client (the only person I recognized) stood up, said, "Thank you all very much for coming on short notice." Then he looked at me and said, "Brian, over to you." Then he sat down. 

Record scratch.

Record scratch.

What would you do? 

Dynamic facilitation is designing an approach in the moment to meet participants' needs.

Why would you do dynamic facilitation? You might need to pivot an approach. Despite all the best preparation, there are moments when you realize that the approach you designed isn't going to get participants where they want to be. This is different from when participants naturally resist the process. This is when you recognize that the logical flow of activities won't result in the outcomes the participants want. 

You might intentionally leave space in the agenda to dynamically facilitate. For example, in facilitating an Open Space session or Salon session, you might choose to wait until a conversation is happening before offering a method or activity to help facilitate it.

Or, you may find yourself in front of an ad hoc meeting with zero time to prepare. Like what happened to me.

Whatever drives it, there are five essentials to successfully facilitate dynamically.

1. Presence.  First, get yourself together. This may sound like your worst nightmare, like showing up for a test you haven't studied for. Regardless, it's your job to stay calm, cool, and collected. Participants take their mood cues off you. Keep your facial muscles relaxed (no wide eyes or gaping jaws), keep a calm and even tone of voice, maintain open body language, and breathe slowly and deeply.

2. Authenticity.  Second, don't be disingenuous or falsely confident about what's happening. The agenda is not a precious thing to protect. Let go of any illusion of control, or any ego. Call a balcony moment and do a process check with the group: "I'm sensing that this may not be getting us to where we want to be. To what extent do you feel like we need to switch tactics and try something else?"

3. A Model.  Have a simple, flexible, framework in your mind to hang any suggested activities on. Choose your favorite. Here are a few to consider:

  • Sam Kaner's Divergence-Groan Zone-Convergence.
  • Interaction Associates' Open-Narrow-Close.
  • The first four parts of the Drexler-Sibbet Team Performance Model can perform double-duty as a facilitation model: Orientation-Trust Building-Goal Clarification-Commitment.
  • Gamestorming's Opening-Exploring-Closing (or Divergent-Emergent-Convergent.)

Whichever you choose, having an overarching approach in the back of your head as you select methods will help participants bring in new ideas, assess them, and decide a way forward.

4. Methods.  This is where you really have to know your stuff as a facilitator. These are the tools in your toolbox, the cards in your deck, the activities and group processes to help the group achieve its outcomes. The IAF Methods Database recently got a face-lift from a partnership with SessionLab, and it's a fantastic resource for facilitation methods. Additionally, check out The Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision Making, Gamestorming, Best Practices for Facilitation, Visual Meetings, Design a Better Business, and Innovating for People as a start to building your own personal methods library. 

5. Flow.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as "a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. [You] are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove." Nancy Reuscher calls it "being a styrofoam cup on the sea of change." David Sibbet simply says, "It's like jazz." How ever you define it, be in flow. If you know you're a strong J on the Myers-Briggs, be ready to flex your P. Be mindful, present, aware, relaxed, and roll with whatever happens in the room.

Dynamic facilitation can at once give you both the scariest and most rewarding moments of your career. 

Epilogue: By request, here's the rest of the story.

First, I focused on my presence. I got my head straight and reminded myself the rule of group dynamics: chances were, I wasn't the only one feeling lost and confused.

Second, I was authentic about what I was feeling. I stood up, started hanging a blank chart, and said, "Thank you, sir. And thank you all for coming on short notice. Now, I'm sure many of you are a little unsure about why we're here. I am too."

Third, I decided on Kaner's divergence-groan zone-convergence as a model for the meeting, for no other reason than that it can be applied to just about any outcome-driven meeting. 

Fourth, I chose a divergence method to bring in different ideas. I said, "Let's take a minute and get on the same page. I'd like to go around the room and do introductions. Please say your name, your role, what you'd like to get out of the meeting, and one interesting thing about yourself that no one in the room already knows." And I drew a Team Portrait. By the time we had gone around the room, the tension had been broken, and I had everyone's name and expected outcome for the day. About half of the participants had clear expectations, the other half had no idea why they were there. We clustered all the outcomes into five or six overarching themes, then prioritized them using straw polls. Once we had the outcomes, I invited participants to each share what they might offer to help achieve those outcomes. That engaged the participants who hadn't known why they were there.

Fifth, to the best of my ability, I tried to flow. For each subject, I offered suggestions for information sharing and decision making methods, but I put the ultimate decision of which approach to use back on the group. I watched the body language of individuals to know when to suggest breaks or different work mixes. And I regularly checked the process: "How is this working? Do we need to pivot and try something else? Where do we go from here?"

The meeting turned into a working session and went until the end of the day. Halfway through, I had to run and get another roll of paper from my desk. When we finally closed, several participants said, "This is the best meeting I've ever been to." 

I took the next day off.