Effective Facilitation: A Six-Pack of Favorite Resources

Whether you are doing the work of a meeting, process, or workshop facilitator or just looking to incorporate more of a facilitative approach in your work as a manager or leader, these are six resources I find valuable.  

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Recommended resources overview

Gamestorming and The Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making are essential toolkit books filled with activities and techniques applicable for facilitators of all skill levels.  The other four texts explore the values, principles, and processes intrinsic in facilitation work and are probably most appropriate for intermediate to advanced learners.  

Two additional books not described below address facilitation fundamentals at a more basic-intermediate level Facilitating with Ease by Ingrid Bens or The Facilitator Excellence Handbook by Fran Rees.

by William Isaacs 

Isaacs is founder of the Dialogos Institute at MIT and at times writes with the headiness of brainpower of someone you would envision in that position.  But overall, this is an accessible book filled with insights about how individuals can collectively think better together by changing the patterns of how they listen and speak to each other:

"You have a dialogue when you explore the uncertainties and questions that no one has answers to.  In this way you begin to think together—not simply report out old thoughts no one has answers to.  In dialogue people learn to use the energy of their differences to enhance their collective wisdom."

Four key aspects of dialogic leadership are: (1) speaking your true voice and encouraging others to do the same; (2) listening as a participant to the meaning emerging in the larger whole; (3) respecting the coherence of others' views even if we do not share them; and (4) suspending our certainties so that we not only advocate our perspectives, but inquire into those that others hold.
by Trevor Bentley

An incredibly unique resource that is now out of print (but can still be bought used on Amazon.com), Bentley's book moves between description of an actual facilitation with a group and narrative about the facilitation approach and choices he adopts.  It's about as close to fishbowling an actual facilitation as you can get in printed form.

Bentley deeply believes that facilitators should generally operate from a position of restraint, not overly managing a group, and one of the many useful models he offers is a Facilitation Spectrum that illustrates the myriad of choices a facilitator has available to select form when contemplating intervening with a group.  His philosophy, approach, and technique indeed show us how we can make groups and conversations a safe place for individual and collective growth.

by Sam Kaner, et al

Simply put, this is one of the most invaluable resources you can have to guide you through how to work with groups to help them reach a decision, in terms of both content and a process.  Most importantly the values, tools, and techniques explored will help groups achieve sustainable agreements, not just make a decision in the moment that will unlikely be implemented after the conversation.

Kaner and his colleagues describe the dynamics associated with group decision-making, highlighting the important shift from divergent to convergent thinking and the "groan zone" that has to be traveled between the two, one of the most challenging spaces for a facilitator to help a group navigate.  The book is chock-full with insightful narrative of facilitation values and beliefs complemented by very useful sections outlining common facilitation techniques and even case studies of group decision-making in action. 

by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo

Gray is the founder of Xplane, the visual thinking company, one of the first firms to create infographics for complex concepts and stories.  His work fits nicely with Dan Roam's writing in The Back of the Napkin.  Subtitled as "A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers," the book defines gamestorming as "about creating game worlds specifically to explore and examine business challenges, to improve collaboration, and to generate novel insights about the way the world works and what kids of possibilities we might find there."

While some of the more than 80 activities outlined in the book are definitely games, I'd suggest more of them could be described as exercises or activities, an important distinction given the potentially negative connotation (unjustified in my opinion) some associate with the game label.  Some of the activities have been excerpted on the Go Gamestorming website.

by Jon C. Jenkins and Maureen R. Jenkins

"Facilitative leadership enables all of the relevant ideas to get onto the table and creates an environment in which constructive dialogue can lead to innovative breakthroughs."  This assertion is at the core of this book which focuses on the facilitative leader's three developmental paths and the three disciplines they associate with each:

  • Regarding others (detachment, focus, engagement)
  • Regarding myself (interior council, sense of wonder, intentionality)
  • Regarding life (awareness, presence, action)
This is a "make you think" book, one that causes you to reexamine some of your general assumptions about leadership and about leading groups in particular.

The Skilled Facilitator
by Roger Schwarz

Schwarz is perhaps one of the better known facilitation trainers, and this new and revised book is an excellent guidebook not only for facilitators, but also trainers and consultants.  What I particularly appreciate about this book is that it takes a systems perspective for the work of facilitation, acknowledging that any action a facilitator takes can affect a group in multiple ways that have multiple consequences.

His method, the Skilled Facilitator Approach, is anchored in four core values: valid information, free and informed choice, internal commitment, and compassion.  The behaviors, techniques, and tools offered in the book reflect these values.  Schwarz is particularly effective in dissecting the considerations involved in diagnosing a group's needs and determining if, when, and how to intervene as a result.


Looking for customer-designed facilitation training?  I regularly design and present facilitation training webinars and half-day or full-day in-person sessions.  

Learn more here.
Request a training here.

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