Wilkinson. Secrets of facilitation. SMART guide for working with groups (book summary)

Wilkinson. Secrets of facilitation. SMART guide for working with groups (book summary)

This book is probably not for everyone and not for everyone, but if you have to conduct group meetings from meetings to strategy sessions (the focus of the book is on them), this is one not to be missed. Below is what I learned for myself and apply in my practice of conducting strategic sessions.

Preparation for the session

You should start by clarifying the basic information: the purpose of the session, the product (what should be the result?), the participants (who should be and what are their presentations?), current and possible problems, the process (what steps do we need to take within the session?) , venue, previous experience (what sessions have already been held with this group? what were the results? what were the difficulties?).

Next, define the main question and preparatory questions that need to be answered in the session. Create a detailed session plan with bullet points, tools used, and timing. Below are some examples of structures for different session purposes.

  • Conference: current situation; past successes and difficulties; potential solutions to difficulties; collective and individual actions (plan); next steps

  • Problem solving: problems; decision selection criteria; solution options; strengths and weaknesses, evaluation of the option by criteria; choice

  • Process improvement: how the process works today; problems and causes; methods of improvement; priority of decisions; how the process will work; how we will implement it

  • Project plan: goals; key results; critical success factors; concept; resources and schedule; risks; action plan

Holding a session

Opening session

At the beginning of the session, you need to: inform, empower, inspire and engage (through Type B questions, which will be discussed later) the participants.

The opening words can sound like this: “Thank you for coming! As you know we … In this session we will create together a new approach that will allow … Each of you has been personally chosen to participate because … What are the problems, ‘related to … you are particularly concerned about, what topics should we discuss?

Speaking and accepting (by raising hands) the rules of the session. The author recommends the following list of rules: everyone has the right to express themselves, including suggestions to speed up or slow down; the decision on the proposals of the participants will be decided by voting; only one person can speak at a time; you can’t use the phrase “it won’t work”; in case of a drop in the energy level, we will use “recharging” (let’s come up with an exercise together), each participant can at any time offer to carry out “recharging”; the role of the participants is active participation and exchange of experience, my role is to make the process more efficient and focused; the orientation is to cover 100% of the agenda and process each point at least 85%.

A story about parking boards. — special places where you can record items on various topics. The author recommends using the following parking boards: decisions, actions (table with tasks, deadlines and responsible), questions for the future.

Acquaintance. Set the format (depending on the purpose of the session and the level of familiarity of the participants, for example, introduce yourself and say “What should be in the session to interest you?”), write the questions on flipchat and use a timer with a signal (30 sec) so that the process does not drag on ( after timer signal, give an opportunity to complete a proposal, but not to start a new one).

Tell about the agenda and vote for the agenda, introducing, if necessary, corrections.

Main part

Move consistently from question to question according to the plan, each time before starting a new question, reviewing the past and future and explaining how the new point fits into the purpose of the session.

Use, including:

  • Clarifying questions: “Does it seem like you’re talking about it like that? Can I record this? Why is this important?

  • Questions that continue: “What else? What other…?”

  • Redirecting questions: “Would you mind if we put this on the list of questions so we don’t forget and come back to the discussion…?”

  • Type B questions or create the image of a phrase: “Remember…”, “Think…”. For example, instead of asking “What would you like to learn?”, say “Imagine you are facilitating the worst possible meeting, such as discussing your weaknesses, what would you like to learn, what would you like to learn from?”, and instead of asking to list strengths can be said like this: “If I asked your boss what you’re super good at, what would he say?”

  • Work in small groups

  • Documentation, including on parking boards

  • Various group decision-making tools. Decision-making should begin with the joint definition of criteria, lobbying (those who want it, speak for the idea, those who don’t — skip the turn) and, only then, voting (after the selection, you can also ask everyone to vote if they are ready to support the chosen decision). Below are some options for voting: (1) voting by show of hands on all points (if someone has a majority, he is elected, if not, two leaders are taken and a separate vote is held for them), (2) using point systems, for example, sticking stickers in of the selected option, (3) reaching a consensus, for example, a 5-finger Consensus (after discussing the decision, everyone must show from 1 to 5 fingers (5 – completely agree, 1 – strongly disagree). if everyone has 3 to 5, then we move on, if someone has below, must explain and propose changes, after which there will be another round of voting)


It is worth starting the final part with an overview of the session (what was achieved) and maintenance of parking boards:

  • You can also ask everyone: “Are you ready to support this decision? And if not, what minimal changes can be made so that you can support it?”.

  • For a board with a list of questions: Ask each person if the questions have been worked out well enough, do they still need to be discussed, and if so, should they be discussed now or moved to the action list?

  • For the action board: appoint responsible people (ask who is willing to volunteer) and let them set the date themselves.

Ask everyone to rate the last session (asking everyone what they liked and what could be improved, asking those who agree with it to raise their hands after each suggestion for improvement).

And end with a reminder of next steps and a goodbye.

After completion, it is also recommended to debrief the event with the organizer.

Read more summaries and selections of books that are standing in the Telegram channel “It is worth writing down“.

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