Facilitation Techniques – When to Use and Why

Facilitation isn’t all about fun icebreakers and team building exercises. Don’t get me wrong, these have a place, but facilitation activities should connect people with each other but also the content that will be explored during the session. A technique that isn’t helping to move the group towards the goal or outcome for the interaction, will be ineffective. Experienced facilitators know which patterns to use when interactions are difficult as they understand not only the mechanics of the technique, but also when to use and why. 

There are many facilitation techniques that can be employed to improve the Scrum Event interactions between team members and enhance the team’s success. Some techniques are great at encouraging diverse perspectives whilst bringing the team together to reach decisions, whilst others are about creating a safe space and coming to a shared understanding. Having a toolbox of facilitation techniques and understanding how to apply in different circumstances is the key.

Here are my key “Go To” patterns in my facilitation toolkit for creating a safe healthy space, consensus and collaboration. Often i use these techniques in combination and my choice of technique depends on the context, complexity of the situation, whether the stakes are high in making a decision and the stakeholder audience. 

3 Key Facilitation Techniques to create a Safe Environment

There are a variety of techniques that can be used to create a safe and healthy environment in which people can come together, discuss ideas and come to a shared understanding. To be effective as a Scrum team, it’s important to create a safe space to discuss difficult and complex issues and challenges and ensure each team member has a voice and participates.

When to use these patterns?: I often use these when events are dominated by one or two vocal participants  and  other team members are quiet, not comfortable being vocal in a group or are not participating. I also use these when I have a mixture of team members and managers in the room. People may not feel comfortable about raising issues for fear of conflict or that their view may not be received favourably by mangaement. 

1 -2 -4 – All

To kick of a meeting, rather than using the traditional round the room introductions, provide an opportunity for people to start to connect with each other and the purpose of the event. This pattern starts off with individual writing to giving people space to come up with ideas. next they share in pairs and have a conversation about the questions posed by the facilitator. They then inspect the answers with another pair to form a group of four. Finally, each group then provides a summary of the ideas discussed and the learning outcomes for the session.  This pattern can also be used is also great for generating action items at retrospectives. 

Why use this technique? – It’s inclusive, allows individual’s space, helps generate ideas fast and the participants own the idea.


This technique creates a clear space for people to generate ideas. It helps relax people, increases creativity and clears a space for innovative thinking that allows people to challenge existing practice and have courageous conversations. It starts with asking people to make a list of all they can do to achieve the worst possible result for their strategy/objective. The facilitator then prompts them to go down the list and ask – “is there anything in this counterproductive list that we are currently doing in that way, shape or form?”. The group then goes through this second list of items and decide what steps are needed to stop what we now know creates undesirable results. 

This technique is great for retrospectvies, design workshops or team kick off when people are brought together for the first time. I often use these techniques in combination when creating a Team Agreement/Team Canvas.

Why use this technique? – Creates a safe place, generates ideas quickly, makes issues transparent and highlights behaviours that should be stopped or addressed.

Team Agreement 

To create a shared understanding of the working rules and values of the team. A working agreement creates a shared understanding and agreement on how the team will interact with each other and collaborate to achieve their goals. Often a team canvas is used to capture the agreement. If the team observes behaviours that are contrary to the team’s working agreement, then the team now have a mechanism to hold everyone accountable to the team’s values.

I often do a team charter when a new team is set up and the charter is revisted at sprint retrospectvie if there has been team dysfunction or conflict within the group during the sprint. 

Why use this technique? – It creates a shared understanding of team values and behaviours, holds participants accountable to the team “rules” they created and provides a safe space to address team dysfunctionese

3 Key Facilitation Techniques to gain Consensus

Whilst it’s is important to give people a safe space and time, sometimes as facilitators we also need to gain consensus.  Getting a decision or outcome can be challenging. 

When to use these patterns?: When you need to innovative thinking or explore options and make a decision and the actions needed to solve a problem. When it is important for participants to discuss issues and challenges and gain consensus on the decision to be made and ensure everyone has a clear understanding of the outcome of what has been decided and how. 

Roman Voting

This is a great technique to quickly arrive at consensus for Scrum Teams.  It’s fast and easy. and quickly builds consensus. Roman Voting is a simple up or down vote made with thumbs. Everyone votes at the same time (to avoid anchoring).  Thumbs up signifies a “yes” (or agreement) while thumbs down signifies a “no” (or disagreement). Best used in Scrum Events to guage interest in continuing the discussion or to move on. 

Why use this technique? – It’s inclusive and a quick, easy way to get consensus.

Affinity Mapping

When you have large data sets that need to be organised to create clarity and transparency a large volume of mixed information and ideas from brainstorming. Affinity diagrams are a visual tool that require you to cluster information in an organised manner to help you synthesise the information and make sense of the insights gathered. It helps to sort ideas into different groups or categories based on their relationship to one another. 

Affinity diagrams shouldn’t be used as a brainstorming tool but rather as a way to organise, consolidate, and act on the ideas from the brainstorming exercise. Once clusters are identified they can be discussed, clarified and ranked to identify priority problems to address. Great tool for design workshops, estimation and value discussion. 

Why use this technique? Creates a safe and healthy environment to quickly generate data, explore different ideas and sort a large amount of data to create clarity on key themes and categories. 

Dot Voting

This is also a quick way to gain team consensus especially when a team needs to choose a few options from a large pool of options. I often use this in combination with Affinity mapping to work out which actions or ideas the group should work on first. Each team member is given the same number of dot votes ( 3 or 5) and places their dots on the idea they feel is the most important. When everyone has voted, you assess the results to facilitate agreement on the rank order of ideas or actions to work on.  I often use this apttern in retrospectvies to get a short list of prioritised actionable improvements.

Why use this technique? Helps to quickly assess what is important to act on, gives all participants a voice and ownership of the outcome.

3 Facilitation Techniques for Participatory Decision Making

If engagement within the team is low and only a few people speak, a participatory technique may help to encourage people to contribute to the activities and discussion to share their ideas and perspectives. These techniques help to get everyone’s voice heard and understood whilst also involving the whole group in the participatory decision-making process.

When to use these patterns?: When you are doing a large workshop or scaled event and it is important for participants to be invovled in developing the ideas and have a shared understanding of the concepts and actions. Useful way to impart information across multiple groups and teams. 

Gallery Walk

Using small groups working in parallel, each group is assigned a different topic or question to explore one of the many items to discuss. each group is given a different element or question to discuss and they capture and collect their answers and ideas. When the timebox is up, participants are asked to walk around the other groups to look at the other groups ideas, discuss and add to the ideas of the other teams.

After this gallery walk, the combine group discusses their thoughts and ideas of what they saw and understood from the discussions and interaction. This is a great pattern when working with multiple teams or at scaled events. 

Why use this technique? This shift and share pattern enables transparency, collaboration, explore different perspectives, participatory decision making and shared ownership of the outcome.

White Elephant

Start with a group of story cards and assign the cards to a predetermined column. For sizing it could be small, medium or large. For value it could be High value, medium and low value etc. Team members are asked to assign the card to one of the columns. When a card is placed in a column, the person who placed the card explains their reason. After a few cards have been sorted into the different piles, there is an opportunity of team members to move existing cards into different columns and provides a reason to support the decision. The exercise finishes when all cards have been sorted and the group is happy with the results. I often use this technique in workshops and training sessions or at backlog refinement when i need to sort and size a number of user stories.  

Why use this technique? Enables a participatory environment, encourages everyone to actively engage, gives everyone an opportunity to contribute and helps create a shared understanding.

Diverge/Converge Diamond

There are times when reaching a decision is this straightforward and easy. The problem is simple, the options are few, there is little risk and everyone in the team understands and recognises the problem. It is far less straight forward when the issue is complex, and people have different views and perspectives.

At times individual team members need time to express their own ideas, opinions and perspectives. The diverging space is great for the ‘silent’ voices in the room to contribute. Once all these many ideas and alternatives are captured, the facilitation turns towards convergence to narrow down the differences and come to a conclusion or decision. Great pattern to use in design workshops and retrospectives. 

A period of confusion and frustration when discussing different perspectives is a natural part of group decision making. Moving from divergent to convergent thinking is not easy and teams end up in the “Groan Zone” when making this ‘transition’. In the Groan Zone teams may experience frustrations, annoyance, misunderstanding etc. Facilitating through this groan zone is critical; to reach a decision or action that everyone understands and supports.

Why use this technique? It’s inclusive, participatory, counteracts group think, builds transparency, builds empathy and explores different perspectives whilst getting to a share understanding of decisions and outcomes. 

Facilitation is an important skill for Scrum Masters as facilitating the dynamics and interactions within these events is essential. I recently wrote about the 5 Facilitation Principles that were essential to guiding a group of people collectively towards a shared objective. These principles are the foundation for facilitation techniques as they enhance healthy collaboration in Scrum teams and help to address challenging scenarios such as conflict.

Facilitators can use many formats and techniques, but this does guarantee that the outcome will be reached. It is therefore important for facilitators to understand the purpose and outcomes they are trying to achieve for each event or workshop. Once this context and objective is understood, the facilitator requires a toolkit of techniques and patterns they can use to create a safe space, get consensus and reach a participatory decision. Ultimately linking the facilitation pattern to the objective of the interaction, makes the event more effective and helps contribute to team success in achieving their goals. 

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