Person working with a PC Methodology

The Role of the Facilitator in an Online Session: Rules and 12 Tips

16/04/20 10 min. read

As a consequence of the coronavirus, many of us have been obliged to work remotely. This requires us to change the way we do things and how we relate and communicate with each other, while at the same time ensuring we maintain or even enhance our productivity… piece of cake, right?

The good news is that we can accelerate our remote working skills.

Online meetings also require the facilitator’s role to success

You may well have to hold meetings with many people and with different objectives:

  • idea generation,
  • creating a join plant,
  • validating or making certain decisions

Due to the importance of these objectives or perhaps now simply because we are all working remotely, these meetings require someone to act as a facilitator. It is important to assess the benefits of holding a session remotely. Consider what the deliverable is; does it need to be generated by the group? Does it allow us to ensure we follow a plan? 🤔 This does not mean we should dispense with the session, but we need to consider whether it is the best medium to achieve the purpose.

Now more than ever, we have a lot of meetings and it is important to think carefully about the benefits before launching a meeting; your colleagues will appreciate it.

You can get down to business using this index:

Multiconference with people using a PC

Preparing to be a facilitator for an online session:

Given that we are interacting in a different context with an absence of non-verbal communication, we have to bear in mind that unforeseen circumstances may arise. Whenever possible, we should have a Plan B in case something goes wrong.

We also need to take into account the situation of the participants: for example, if they are at home they may have to attend to a family member or they may not have much time available.

After taking into consideration all these factors and the objective of the session we can then begin…

Preparing the Step Outline

In the filmmaking industry, this is a list of the scenes that make up the screenplay’s story. This concept is also used by facilitators to organise a timeline of what will happen during the session. Included below is a template that will help you to design your own step outline taking into account the following level of detail: Start time, duration, task, details, responsible person.

Meeting facilitator

We start by specifying the objective / deliverables of the session, proposing the ‘why’ and ‘what for’ of the session: what needs to happen for it to be a success? Once we have reflected on these aspects with involvement of the interested parties we then have the perfect starting point.

All good step outlines have three parts:

1. Introduction:

escaleta introduccuón

Context and Agenda

All participants need to have a shared vision of the reason we are meeting: we can use this to transmit to the participants the role they have and why they are so important and necessary to achieve the objective of the session.

The agenda is used to tell everyone in the group what is going to happen. Whenever possible this should be visual in the form of an image or putting the agenda in the tool’s chat .

Rules

These are a facilitator’s greatest allies. They generate the behaviour necessary for proper functioning of the session. If anyone (not just the facilitator) identifies that the objectives are not being achieved they can express this in an automagical way. 🙂

These are the 7 rules that I always use in my online sessions:

  • For this to work, please turn on your camera.
  • Have your microphone silenced and only activate it when you are speaking to minimise noise during the session. Otherwise, the facilitator can silence all the participants and be responsible for silencing the microphone after duly explaining this rule. Putting one’s hand up to speak is an option (this means the facilitator has to keep an eye out for this during the session).
  • But there are more high priority aspects. We need to be aware that we are not in the office so if something urgent comes up, whatever its nature, the group must be understanding and committed to reconnecting as soon as possible.
  • Leave your smartphones alone so that you can focus on the session and don’t get distracted.
  • Have a positive and constructive attitude regarding the work of your colleagues. Avoid arguments that don’t contribute to the objective and take up time during the session without contributing anything to the team; and NO speaking on behalf of another colleague who is present themselves, explaining something they have already explained in another way.
  • Any matter not included in the agenda should be noted down for consideration at another time.
  • Keep to the times established in the agenda.
  • If there is time, further group rules may be defined for the session.

Icebreakers

We need to generate a collaborative atmosphere so that people feel more comfortable and participate; this aspect is essential.

Here is an article with different techniques to achieve this objective,

Although after reading it you may not see how this can be done remotely…

To choose the right activity, we need to take into account how many people there are and the time we can devote to it.

How can we adapt these group dynamics to remote work environments? There are lots of options, such as:

  • Story cubes: instead of physical dice use an app with virtual dice.
  • Two truths and a lie – we can use an online tool to vote; I love this activity!!!!
  • Say something positive about the day, the situation or anything else: this is a particularly good one when you don’t have much time.
  • Self-expression: to facilitate communication, I would ask the participants to allow the monitor to show the upper body and not just the face; this makes it easier for the group to capture the dynamics.
  • ‘Share a hobby’ and ‘how to squeeze a lemon’: we can use the chat function of the tool or an online notes tool, any tool used to manage retrospectives has this functionality.
  • Song guessing contest: this one was born to be used remotely

I’m sure you’ve already thought of plenty of others: How do you feel today? A super power? What can you see out your window? If you could have dinner with a historical figure… who would it be and why?

We need to bear in mind that the speaking times of the participants must be very tightly managed.

We can use a timer to manage time / order. This could be something like an animated helper in a ppt.

2. Development

detalle nudo escaleta ingles

This involves step-by-step explanations of the details of the activities, which will be designed to achieve the objective / deliverables of the session… this has such a wide scope we could go on forever!!!! Broadly speaking it could include idea generation, creating a joint plan, validating or making certain decisions, team retrospectives… there are so many fun alternatives.

Here’s an example so you can see how we can do something remotely that we normally do in person with Post-it notes.

Idea generation session:

✍️ We need someone who can take notes very quickly or an online tool which allows us to do this in a collaborative manner. For example, https://funretro.io/

🧠 There are countless online tools. We could have a board shared by all the members: firstly I put an idea and then another person writes it down so that another colleague doesn’t repeat it… As you can see, just about anything can be done remotely…

🙋‍♂️ If we have to make decisions, state the rules clearly and whether we will use votes or need consensus. For example, we explain the approach and if we need to use a tool we explain how it is used.

3. Conclusion

detalle conclusión escaleta ingles

Feedback

Is important to determine how the team felt during the session; if these feelings remain as mere perceptions we won’t be able to improve in the next session. Prepare a survey, use the chat function, review the expectations for the session…

Close with the conclusions of the session:

It is important to remember to go over the issues that have arisen and could not be resolved during the session, so that it is clear how we will progress in these areas.

Man smiling in front of a PC

12 Tips for success:

  1. Always try to have an overall view of the group, not just the person speaking, otherwise, we lose the group context. Sometimes we need to reorient meetings and it is important to have an overall view of the non-verbal communication.
  2. Make sure that during the session the group is interacting. If people are present in the session it is for a reason and we have to ensure that we do not lose that added value.
  3. Whenever possible, try to visualise the entire project.
  4. Make sure the rules are followed.
  5. Bear in mind that sometimes people disconnect; we have to facilitate their reconnection by using the tool’s chat function and recording what we are doing …
  6. Request feedback whenever possible, even if it is simply asking how the session went, how we are progressing, having the chat open for any comments …
  7. Foster group cohesion with different dynamics and creation of small groups to help generate consensus.
  8. Prepare for the unexpected: technology issues, absences,… if we are well prepared we will always have a plan B.
  9. Have rest / break times.
  10. Ensure that the necessary tools are ready for everyone without having to lose time with access issues… and that everyone has a sufficient understanding to be able to use them.
  11. If possible, have a second facilitator.
  12. Check that there is no dependency of any kind that may prevent holding the session and ensure that all the objectives set are achieved.

I’m sure everything will work out perfectly!

The team members will undoubtedly appreciate your effort. I hope this helps you to view this situation which has forced us to leave our comfort zone in a different light. No doubt, this learning experience will help us to be more creative in the future.

Sonia S. Sansegundo

Sonia Sánchez Sansegundo

Santander Global Tech

Totally convinced and in love with Agile. Positive. Challenge: to help my colleagues to know and experience the Agile so that they enjoy, like me, this experience. Agile Coach

 

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