Top Three Facilitator Fails: How to turn a group off learning



Over the past few months I have been working with a great client helping develop facilitation skills for senior managers within the business. As part of this programme, we explore what are the biggest facilitator ‘turn offs’ in a development workshop.  Here are my Top 3:

1: Style over substance

I call these the ‘Entertrainers’.  Every second sentence is a joke as they warm into a regular stand up routine. By indulging in their own comic alter ego they neglect to notice that they are the only ones laughing. It gets even worse when they pair up.  A double act of co-facilitators, bouncing off each others in-jokes.  Humour is great, as long as it doesn’t distract you from the needs in the room.

2: Defending the Theory

I remember several years ago I was working for a training consultancy and I was sharing a popular time management model.  One participant offered a challenge as he did not feel it aligned with his personal experience.  I stood next to the flip chart and defended the research to the bitter end.  We went back and forth, neither of us accepting each others view until we eventually had to agree to disagree.  It was only later it dawned on me that it was not my model to defend, and of course his experience was as valid as anything I could share from a book.

From that point on I changed my approach.   Now, if someone challenges an idea or theory I am introducing, I move to stand next to them, from there we can both look back at the idea together.  From this position we can critique it together, its merits and its flaws and come to a shared understanding of what value it brings.  As an old colleague of mine used to say, “all models are wrong, but some are really useful”.

3: Playing ‘Guess what’s in my head’

I used to co-facilitate with a guy who fell into this habit every session.  He knew it was good to use a variety of ‘methods’ when facilitating, and often took to the flipchart when he wanted to engage the group in answering a question.  He would stand there, pen in hand and ask for the participant’s views on a topic.  As they responded, his pen would hover only to say things like “nearly…” and “you’re almost right”, or “anyone else?”,  The group would painfully continue to try and guess the answer that was in his head.  Key lesson here is that if you are going to ask for people’s views, then discuss them, unedited.  If you feel there really is only one right answer, just tell them.

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Ingenious Performance is a small organisation with a big impact.  We are specialists in high performance workplace behaviour and are passionate about delivering extraordinary results for our clients.  We believe that talent is overrated and ordinary people mastering exceptional things are what drive organisational success.

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