Facilitation Friday #4: Help Make Connections and Meaning


You get off your plane at the airport and the first thing you do is check your cellphone or the gate monitor for information about your connection.  You want to know one thing: where do I need to go next? Whether it be volunteers on a conference call, staff colleagues in a meeting, or learners participating in a workshop, they seek the same thing: connections.

In a fast-paced environment overloaded with information, people need to connect on a variety of levels: with their colleagues, with the issues at hand, with internal information and external insights, and with the lessons from the past and the potential of the future. Facilitation involves listening for and seeking to make (or help others make) these connections more possible and explicit.

For example, you might ask how a current decision under deliberation could affect operations in another area, or how the current discussion connects with others that have occurred and/or with what individuals are doing in their work.  Facilitation also helps connect comments made by various individuals in a conversation. Because facilitation involves deep and active listening, individuals who have developed these skills likely have an overall sense of the links among disparate threads of conversation.They help group members make these linkages, as well as identify the meaning behind what is occurring, by posing expansive, open-ended questions that invite others into the discussion.
  • So where are we at from your perspective?
  • What might the idea(s) we are considering mean for your efforts or what we collectively need to do next?
  • How does what Tonya just shared relate to the points Andrew and Wanda were making earlier?
  • What are you noticing right now and what might it mean for where we go next?
  • What, if anything, isn't connecting for you or making sense right now?
  • We've heard lots of different viewpoints.  Any common threads among them?
These types of questions create a reflective space for individuals and groups where they can make sense of what is transpiring and capture real-time learning about both what they are doing and how they are doing it. Effective facilitation periodically slows the conversation and invites the group to assess the nature of the deliberations and how they can be enhanced:“How are we doing what we are doing?”

Individuals filter what is happening through their respective lenses, roles, and experiences in order to make sense of things ... to make meaning for themselves.  Periodically inviting these different meanings to be shared can help knit together a richer and more robust understanding among the various individuals in a conversation since each person has his or her own lenses in play.

This often is most true when clusters of individuals come with specific shared perspectives that may be influencing the meaning they are making; i.e. individuals from different departments, different geographic locations, different institutional sizes.  Workshop facilitators in particular need to help connect their content to the different contexts individuals may represent and invite individuals to make meaning of the ideas and issues being discussed by exploring the "so what? now what?" questions of implication and application.  Doing so explicitly helps individuals realize greater learning value.

By listening deeply and helping weave individual comments into a coherent whole, as well as helping individuals make (and share) meaning from what is occurring and being discussed, facilitation can help achieve synergy, producing a group result that surpasses what any individual might have accomplished on his or her own.

What are questions or other tactics you've seen or used that help make connections and meaning in a meeting or workshop?

Every Friday in 2012, I will post information and insights about effective facilitation, sharing some of the content and thinking I provide in the one-day and half-day facilitation workshops that groups often engage me to present.  You can find previous posts by searching for the tag: facilitationfriday.