Facilitating a workshop for Facebook or the European Space Agency isn’t all that different from leading a bunch of kids through the woods on a backpacking trip.
I’ve safely led executives through creative brainstorms, and kids through glacier country. Trust me, when you’re the group leader the skillset is about the same.
Each group has its own unique chemistry — even if only briefly assembled for a sprint or workshop. Most group members end up taking on and acting out specific, familiar roles. These defined roles are easy to fall into when groups approach an activity like brainstorming or a design sprint.
Here’s where issues spring up: when the participant’s ‘typical’ way of interacting with a group starts to derail the ability of the group to source and refine creative ideas.
When you’re facilitating a creative session, you’re the guide in the wilderness. You’re in charge of making sure that the group can work together and achieve their goals. As the facilitator, you’re also responsible for any rivalries, fights, hurt feelings or misunderstandings that crop up from clashes between team members.
When I facilitate, I think of it as my duty to address and check these behaviors. Even when the perpetrator is huge/angry/the person who is paying me to lead the session. As facilitator I play a special part as someone on the outside. I’m the guide, and I’m here to help us all survive each other long enough to do something incredible.
Meet the 5 Archetypes that can completely $%@# your design sprint or brainstorm.
Everybody has an opinion — but The Dominator thinks hers are more important than everybody else’s. The Dominator often speaks first, and longest. During brainstorm activities, The Dominator may keep drawing attention back to their ideas, or nit-pick the ideas of others. When the group must choose a spokesman The Dominator automatically claims the role. As spokesman, rather than sharing the group’s consensus, The Dominator may substitute their own idea or personal opinions.
These characteristics can show up in a range of different types of people. I often encounter these characteristics in corporate settings, where career success results from taking charge and pushing ideas hard. I also see this on teams with established power structures — the behavior is tolerated from the ‘boss’ because addressing it may mean career death for an underling.
Confidence and assertion are fantastic attributes — as long as they aren’t limiting the group’s ability to succeed. Brainstorms and creative sprints are most successful when participants mix, mash and evolve ideas.
Yeah, he’ll show up — but The Skeptic wants you and the rest of the group to know this is aaaaall bullshit. The Skeptic may question your choices as facilitator: the length, format, participants or individual methods employed. Often punctuated by loud sighs and an arched eyebrow, The Skeptic will publicly telegraph their lack of belief in the process. The Skeptic may lobby for changes to your program, or supply alternatives. Sometimes you will find The Skeptic in the hallway, trying to convince other participants to abandon faith in the process.
Skeptics come in all shapes and sizes. Some might have tried what you’re doing in the past and experienced failure. Some are skeptical because they personally employ different methods with great success. Some might have heard that your particular methodology (ex. Design Thinking) is a bunch of bullshit, and they want to be persuaded. Some people just like to try to make the facilitator sweat.
There’s a lot going on in his head — but The Mouse would never utter a squeak about it. The Mouse is interested and follows the group discussion, but does not volunteer any thoughts or opinions of their own. When asked for their opinion, The Mouse may give noncommittal answers or quickly defer to another speaker. You may notice The Mouse more actively engaging in smaller groups or paired activities.
Often the quietest people have the most complex and thoughtful take on the subject, because they’ve been watching and analyzing while others speak. If you can create a safe enough space for shy people to share, you allow the group to benefit from their participation and ideas.
He’s holding your eye contact — wait, now The Teacher’s Pet is holding your coffee for you. The Teacher’s Pet tries to interact with or impress the instructor at the expense of working with the group. The Teacher’s Pet wants you to recognize them as the best in the class, or acknowledge they’re different than the rest of the participants. Often found at the facilitator’s side during breaks, The Teacher’s Pet may try to fill time with conversation unrelated to the workshop.
The Teacher’s Pet isn’t a bad person, they’re just bidding aggressively for the facilitator’s respect and attention. They might not realize that their behavior makes it harder for the rest of the group to collaborate. Since their motivation is to excel, just helping the individual understand how to excel as a participant within their group can remedy the problem.
This might be the funniest thing anyone’s ever said — too bad The Buddy System isn’t letting you in on the joke. The Buddy System is a tight-knit set/group of friends or colleagues that bring that private jokes and clannish behavior into a group of strangers. Sometimes motivated by awkwardness, The Buddy System falls back into their comfortable friendship instead of meeting other group members or experimenting with new behavior or mindsets.
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