One of the challenges that practitioners who are new to Agile often struggle with is how to best facilitate an Agile meeting. They have questions such as:
- What is the best approach when one or more participants have their own agenda or want to take over the meeting?
- What can I do when people are dis-engaged or are reluctant to participate?
- What can I do about meetings that go over the agreed allotted time, or meetings that start late because we are waiting for some participants to show up?
These are just some of the questions that practitioners who are new to Agile often have. A key solution to this problem is to have an understanding of what makes a good Agile facilitator and knowing how to put these skills into practice. Here are the top ten tips for being an effective Agile facilitator.
Embody a Facilitators Stance
What does it mean to embody facilitator stance? It means to take a neutral approach and be able to understand and embody multiple perspectives. It also means to be respectful, focused, collaborative, confident, creative, approachable, and organized. Here is a look into the details of each of these stances.
Be Neutral: Embody Multiple Perspectives
Draw out different viewpoints skillfully from a diverse group of professionals, both inside and outside the team. Do not take sides. A neutral approach is calm, professional, and patient. The facilitator is a good listener, curious and an advocate. Facilitators with a neutral approach use phrases such as “Thank you for that”, “Who else had a thought like this”, “Let me play back what you said to make sure that we all understand it”, “Why is that important to you?”, “What would you like to see happen?” etc. They also avoid biased phrases such as “I agree” or “I disagree”, “what you should do is”, “I doubt it”, etc.
- Embody self-bias management: Move your personal thoughts/opinions to the side.
- Be mindful of words, character, action: help the team align on a common business goal.
- Show the team you are listening, capturing, communicating, and empowering the team—but as a neutral, unbiased facilitator.
- Navigate and balance the need to stay neutral while protecting the team and the Agile practice
Be Respectful – Embody Openness and enthusiasm
Taking a facilitator stance means recognizing people have different ways of coming at a challenge or problem. Respecting others means listen carefully to all views and not taking sides. Not jumping to conclusions, speaking to others respectfully and with appreciation. Embodying openness and enthusiasm means being aware of our own pre-conceived ideas, prejudices, and biases. It means not interrupting others when we do not agree with them and assuming positive intent. Assuming positive intent means that we always start from the idea that a person means well or was doing their best regardless of what they are saying.
Be Focused – Embody Vision
As a facilitator being focused and embodying a vision is key to success. Time is money. Your team is building and delivering features and products to enhance customer experience. Keep the team focused. If a team member goes off on a tangent, or off topic, you can bring them back to topic by using tools such as Elmo. The acronym E.L.M.O stands for (Enough, Let’s Move On) and any team member can call “Elmo” in a workshop or meeting as a fun way to bring the group back into focus. Another tool you can use to capture out of scope items is Parking Lot. A parking lot is a place to capture comments, topics, or questions that are not related to the agenda. It keeps the focus on the immediate discussion while deferring (i.e., “parking”) other topics for later. Empower any team to be focused and embody the vision as a facilitator.
Be Collaborative – Embody Self-Management
Encourage team members to pair or work together as they move toward a solution, they devise themselves. As a facilitator do not dictate or devise solutions on your own, instead help the team to do it themselves. They key to self-management is to be an example to others. Therefore, manage your time and be conscientious of the participant’s time. You do this by starting on time, ending on time, and being prepared.
Be Confidential – Embody your Trust
Keep people’s secrets if they indicate a conversation is confidential. Do nothing to jeopardize trust in you. You build trust by building a professional relationship with your team. You build trust by being in Integrity with your word, which means doing what you say you are going to do and communicating when circumstances change. Trust is also built by being an example of accountability, integrity, and trustworthiness.
Be Creative – Embody Newness
Don’t dictate or devise solutions on your own—help the team do it themselves. Use visible tools that can help the team brainstorm and think of outside of the box solutions. Use Agile Games, and other creativity games to help with innovation. Help teams visualize as quickly as possible. Shape feedback, ideas, and possibilities into a visual artifact that all can see. Make it easy for team members and others to be comfortable in speaking freely and confidentially. Set your stance so that others feel comfortable seeking you out when they have a need, problem, or question.
Be Approachable – Embody Openness
Being approachable means open, accessible, easy to meet with other people. Someone who is approachable is to understand and deal with. A person who is approachable is also a good listener, manages their reactions and emotions, is relatable, is not judgmental, will listen to other people’s perspective and is humble. Part of being a servant leader is to be approachable and be open to other people’s perspective.
Be Organized – Embody Time Management
One key to a successful facilitation in a meeting is knowing how to organize your time and being prepared. This means that before you start a meeting you are prepared with the by:
- Have a clear agenda with timings for each topic
- Knowing which facilitation method, you will use for each topic
- Setting clear context for the meeting such as why we are here, what we plan to accomplish, how, by when, etc.
- Start on time, and end on time
- Give breaks if the meeting if time is long
- Any time-consuming tasks can be assigned as homework to be completed prior the meeting
- Have a parking lot or other similar method when participants go off topic
- Use timers to time-box specific meeting topics in the agenda
- Ensure you have captured clear notes and action items from the meeting with who, what and by when.
Be Decisive- Help teams make good decisions
Decisions can sometimes be challenging for a team to make, but it’s important that as a facilitator you can support your team in setting the stage to make good decisions. The first step is to make sure that you set the right conditions is that you:
- Invite the right people, and that the people invited are ready to decide
- Ensure that everyone feels welcome to share their opinion in the team
This might look like having Senior members speak last to prevent them from influence others or domination of the discussion. Creating a safe space where every team member has a chance to share their idea. Ensuring that there is active listening and no interruptions. Listening for ideas and not just individual or titles.
As far as making a good decision some key steps are:
- You want to start by focusing on defining the problem and inquiring about it with a curious mind, rather than jumping right into solutions.
- Encourage team members to be honest, and this could mean looking at the problem from different perspectives.
- Encourages critical thinking with a healthy and respectful disagreement.
Know how to give Feedback
Giving feedback is both a skill and an art. As a facilitator is important that you give feedback at the right time, in the right place, and only if the person that you are giving feedback to has agreed to and is open to receive feedback. It’s usually never a good idea to give feedback in public or give unsolicited advice. Rather, set a context with the person on how they would like to receive feedback and check with the person first if they even want to receive feedback. If the person agrees to receive feedback, then find a convenient space a time, set a time duration to give the feedback, and be mindful to check your own motives first on why you would like to give the feedback. Here are a few tips:
- Provide positive feedback as well as opportunities for growth
- Provide constructive criticism in private
- Set the context for giving feedback (why this is important for you, when they would like to receive feedback, how they would like to receive feedback, and what is the feedback about)
- Make feedback regular
- Prepare your feedback comments
- Use “I” statements – and speak using unarguable language
- Be specific
- Limit your focus
- Provide specific suggestions to improve
- Follow up
These are the top ten tips for being an excellent Agile Facilitator. These tips can also be used in coaching. Having good facilitation skills is essential to being a successful Agile professional.