blog entries related to facilitation

The Ladder of Accountability

I was recently introduced to the Ladder of Accountability and think it could be a useful group facilitation tool.

As the name implies, the Ladder of Accountability can be used to assess the level of accountability in a group. It can help teams examine an issue that they are dealing with and make some intentional choices about how they want to handle it.

See here for a detailed infographic (the smaller text is worth reading even if the word choices are sometimes off-putting; click on the image for an enlarged view):


Here is one way I imagine using it: I am working with a group and we want to assess where things are at for a particular issue/element of the project. I could ask each of the group members to individually and anonymously circle the rung of the ladder they believe we’re on. A look at the responses would provide the facilitator with a sense of how the group is feeling. The results could be a starting place for a group conversation.


Additional Resources

Group facilitation

In this post, I reflect on a 3-day course titled “Effective Group Facilitation” which I took last month and that was facilitated by Julian Griggs of Dovetail Consulting (see note 1). In some cases, my reflections will encompass aspects of the course which spanned the three days; in other cases, I will write about a single activity or idea. I’ll preface the reflections by saying this was an excellent course.

Effective and ineffective observable behaviours during meetings

Each participant generated a list of observable behaviours which we deem effective or ineffective and seen during meetings. Effective behaviours included: listening, taking turns speaking, being on time. Ineffective behaviours typically included: using digital devices, being late, interrupting. Julian’s provocative question was: Are these observable behaviours (actually) ineffective? Or, are we judging them to be ineffective? Could it be that, in some cases, a shouting match is exactly what we need to move a process forward?!

He cautioned: do not attribute motivation or intention (to a behaviour) too quickly! We must be aware of our own assumptions and be prepared to question and examine these.

Basic facilitation ≠ developmental facilitation

Basic facilitation builds dependency.  Developmental facilitation builds self-reliance. From the handbook we received: “…in developmental facilitation, the facilitator is actively involved in helping the group learn to monitor compliance with its core values themselves” (p.C-6).  I appreciated the articulation of this distinction.

Non-neutral facilitation

Many definitions of facilitation that I’ve encountered make some reference to the facilitator as someone who is “neutral” or “objective”. One thing I appreciated a lot about this course is that Julian acknowledged that, often, we are ‘non-neutral’ facilitators. He built time into this course for us to explore the challenges of this role (Section K of handbook).

As a non-neutral facilitator, how do we balance the need for impartiality with other demands? We worked through some helpful case studies to explore this (P.C-7 handbook).

And, for anyone wanting to read about general distinctions between facilitator, trainer, coach, mediator, chairperson, resource person, these links might be helpful (excellent table on P.C-5):

Activities/energizers that I particularly enjoyed

Portrait drawing

(a) first, we individually write a response to a question posed by facilitator [in this case, the question was: “What is the single most important thing I would like to learn/gain/strengthen from this course?”. (b) Look around the room, lock eyes with someone. Lock eyes! Take 20 seconds to draw that person. Then, move to that person. Share your response and drawing.

Where in the world?

[imaginary context: Community forum]

(a) designate a spot in the room, such as centre of room; (b) “if this is where we are right now, physically, find a spot in the room that represents a place in the world that is special to you. You’ll need to talk to one another to determine where you are.” (c) people move around and find a spot; (d) facilitator invites each person, one by one, to respond to “Why is the place important to you?”

Mirrors on your self

Imagine you have mirrors on your feet…Shine the mirrors on the ceiling (10 secs). Imagine you have mirrors on your hands…on your bottom…etc.

Twinkle fingers

To get a quick pulse from the group on an idea or other, first show the group how to do ‘twinkle fingers’ (participants hold out hands and move fingers as if they were playing a keyboard in one spot). If you want to find out from the group whether they agree with a particular decision (a light one), ask them to show their twinkle fingers.

Mindfulness (ends with 2 great questions)

I have used mindfulness in my teaching, but not in my facilitation. Julian guided us through a mindfulness activity but I don’t recall what it was.  What I do remember were the two questions he ended with (these are great):

Imagine you’ve had a fabulous day (presumably, you’re imagining the end of the facilitated day),

  1. What have you done to make this happen (he came back to this later when inviting us to participate in role plays)?
  2. What have you NOT done to make this happen?
Ending simply and with energy

Instead of a drawn-out workshop end, everyone stands in a circle and holds hands. At the count of 3, everyone takes a step towards the middle of the circle, puts up hands and says “We’re done!”.


We spent quite a bit of time on the morning of Day 2 on interventions. Doing this reflective writing has reminded me of the amazing resources that are in the handbook (see section G).

Simply put, an intervention is when you see something happening and decide to do something. Questions to ask myself as a facilitator:

  • How do I know this behaviour (that I’m observing) is ineffective? (perhaps it’s my own ‘stuff’ …)
  • Is this the right time to intervene?
  • Do I have the skills to go here?
  • Is it just me, or is this happening?

Ways to intervene:

  • Change the structure (i.e, big group to small group)
  • Change the content (get permission/agreement from the group)
  • Reframe (i.e., “we’ve been struggling with X. Let’s look at the advantages of…” — help shift perspective)

Level of intervention can be low, moderate or high.

Tips on openings

(click on picture for list of good tips–please excuse the fuzzy picture)


Random nuggets

  • As a facilitator, you are not responsible for the group’s success, you are responsible for helping the group be the most effective it can be. (Day 1)
  • Ask both: “Is everyone clear on X (e.g. the learning outcomes)?” and “Is anyone not clear on X (e.g. the learning outcomes?”
  • When using role plays in my teaching/facilitation, remind people not to overdo it.




  1. This reflection is part of an assignment which I need to complete to get credit for the course.


Starting a mastermind group

I first heard the term “Mastermind Groups” in the Coaching for Leaders podcast approximately 8 months ago. Since I am thinking about starting one, but wasn’t clear on how these differed or were the same as other support groups, I did some reading on the topic and wanted share what I have learned.

Graphic Conversation

What is a mastermind group?

A mastermind group is created when two or more people come together to work towards a purpose. Individual members set goals and seek to accomplish these. Meetings provide support in a group setting and often involve feedback, brainstorming, sharing resources and peer accountability.

How is a mastermind group different from group coaching?

Mastermind groups draw on the wisdom of the group and allow individual members to benefit from everyone’s feedback, support and advice. The facilitator, if there is one, helps with the process and conditions to support the group. In group coaching, the mentor/facilitator coaches individuals in a group setting.

Determine a focus

A mastermind group works best when there is a clear focus. Whether you are starting a group or joining one, you’ll want to think carefully about this piece as it affects the success and sustainability of the group and its membership.

Selecting members for your mastermind group

I have belonged to various ‘support groups’ (i.e., writing groups, PhD cohort, and others), and, based on that experience and according to what I have read on mastermind groups, the who matters a lot.

In a successful mastermind, members have:

Your screening process may be more formal or less so, depending on your preference. Members should be clear (to the extent that they can) on what they hope to get from/contribute to the group.

How many members should you have?

Several posts (e.g., Lifehack and ChristineKane) suggest masterminds should be composed only of a small group of 3-6 people. In my experience, a group of 6 can work when you have a set meeting day/time (i.e., every Friday at 1 pm) and group of 3 is better when people’s schedules vary and you find yourself having to alter the meeting times.

Structuring and running a mastermind group

Mastermind groups may meet weekly, every two weeks or once a month. Scheduling meetings in advance is advisable, meeting less than once a month isn’t. Your conversations can be in person, by phone, or online.

Overall, your meetings will be guided by your “unifying purpose”. In his post about mastermind groups, Michael Hyatt suggests the following structure:

  • each member shares their highs and lows from the week/month (15 minutes)
  • one member gets the “hot seat” meaning they get focussed attention and time during which they discuss a particular issue, can benefit from the group’s input, and strategize (30 minutes)
  • each member determines and shares one action to which she wants to be held accountable (15 minutes)

Others (Savara at Lifehack, Karyn Greenstreet at the Success Alliance), however, suggest that every member should be in the “hot seat” at every meeting. If you choose this option, time in the hot seat needs to be shortened to keep meetings to a reasonable time.

My next steps

As mentioned at the start of this post, I wrote this because I have an interest in starting/joining a mastermind group related either to writing or to doing educational consulting as a “side gig” (as Dr. Katie Linder calls it). The accountability aspect of masterminds appeals to me at this time and the focus on a common purpose because I think both of these matter a great deal to the success of the individual and group.


In writing this post, I have discovered there are many resources on the internet about starting and running a mastermind group.  Some additional resources that I have not linked to above include:

You’ve Got This Podcast by Dr. Katie Linder (Thank you Katie for inspiring this post!)

Go Beyond Simple Networking and Organize your own Mastermind Group


Photo credit: Marc Wathieu, Flickr, Graphic Conversation https: //flic.kr/p/5xi8KT


Meeting ground rules


Facilitation techniques are about designing and managing group interactions so that people truly collaborate and make sound decisions.

(Bens, 1997)


I recently attended a full day session on building facilitation skills for meetings. Despite the large amount of time I spend in meetings—as a participant and as a facilitator-participant, I have never formally learned about meeting design. The facilitator, Charles Holmes ran a great session and I learned a lot. In this blog post, I write about one key idea from the session: Ground Rules

Ground rules make sense in the context of meetings. They help participants establish common understanding about what is desired and appropriate behaviour so that the group can function effectively and make high-quality decisions.

Though I know it is good practice to do these, I have—to date—typically avoided creating ground rules when facilitating meetings and processes. Somehow, I feel awkward about doing them with adults because I believe ‘we all know how to use common sense and be good to one another in our interactions’ (and so my assumption is that it is condescending to spend time articulating how we want to interact with one another). Yet, that assumption hasn’t consistently proven to be true! And, I have participated in various mundane and ineffective meetings.

So, I think it is time I get over my feeling of awkwardness.

Here are some key points about ground rules that I took away from the session I recently attended:

1. Discuss why it is worthwhile spending time developing ground rules and how these will be used. Though, as a facilitator you may be aware of the benefits of ground rules, the same may not be true of the participants. Therefore, it is worthwhile thinking about how you will introduce the concept and its application to the specific group you are working with. Do not assume meeting members will buy-in and/or know how to use ground rules; instead, make time to have this discussion together.

2. It may be desirable to use a word other than “ground rules”. Because some people may react negatively to the word ‘rules’, it may be preferable to use another word. Alternatives include: meeting norms, team agreements, rules of engagement, or conditions for success.

3. Create ground rules as a group and clarify meaning. After you have introduced the concept to the group and once you have buy-in, generate the ground rules together. Invite people to volunteer ideas and take the time to clarify the meaning of the words as people will associate different meanings to words. Make sure to create ground rules that are specific enough so that it is easy to determine whether they are being honoured.

4. Interact with the ground rules on an ongoing basis and give permission for the rules to be modified. By that I mean, you will want to post the rules at the meetings (i.e., on a flipchart or other appropriate visual) and make reference to them as needed. The point is not to create rules as a group (#3) and then forget about them.  Give the group permission to ask questions about and amend the rules.

5. Check-in at the end of the meeting as to whether the rules were honoured. At the end of a meeting, or on a periodic basis, it is helpful to check-in with the group as to whether they thought each ground rule was met. There are different ways to do this. For example, you can have a whole group conversation if your sense is that this is a high-functioning group in which members can have healthy disagreements. Alternatively, you can ask people to individually and anonymously rate the degree to which a rule was met on a piece of paper that you collect. Regardless of what approach you take, it is then important for the group to have a conversation about the ‘results’.

For some additional resources and/or sample ground rules, see:

If you have additional thoughts and ideas about facilitation and using ground rules for effective meetings, please leave a comment below.


This post is a modified version of a LinkedIn post I wrote in June.


Bens, Ingrid, Facilitating with Ease: Core Skills for Facilitators, Team Leaders and Members, Managers, Consultants, and Trainers, Participative Dynamics, 1997.


Team Touching Hands, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Team_touching_hands.jpg

Determining priorities: 3 helpful images

This post presents 3 images that you might find helpful as you work at determining priorities for your work, family, health and otherwise.


Urgent/Important Matrix


Image Source: http://10minutemanager.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Action-Priority-Matrix.jpg



Impact/Effort Matrix


Image source: http://10minutemanager.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Action-Priority-Matrix.jpg


Importance/Feasibility Matrix

Priority (feasibility & importance)

Image source: http://www.slideshare.net/Raza_Ali/monitoring-and-evaluation-of-health-services