Facilitation Friday #44: Try Ambassadors Instead of Reporters

You divided into small groups and had a great conversation. Energy in the room was high and everyone was engaged.

Get ready for all the passion and enthusiasm to get sucked out of the room as the reporting out begins.  One by one, report by report, attention and interest will diminish.

It doesn't have to be this way, and it shouldn't be this way if you simply tweak the traditional small group reporting process.  Here are a few variations you can try:
  • Create a shared document in Google or another collaborative platform and have each group contribute its report in real time to this shared file. Designate a period of time for people to review the combined output with others in their small group.
  • Utilize a Gallery Wall. Have each group capture key output in large print on flipchart paper.  Post these sheets around the room and invite individuals to browse the output for a set period of time. Close with facilitated large group discussion. Use a smartphone or tablet to capture images of the flipchart and make available to all the participants.  If you don't want to do a wall, you can have people note reports on tabloid sheets at their table and then do a read, pass, repeat. Sheets still could be photographed and/or posted.
  • Invite only a representative number of small groups to initially report a key takeaway or two. Then open the floor for any remaining groups to share any new information they feel would enhance the overall learning. By limiting the initial # of reports to a few groups and only on or two takeaways, you more likely maintain individuals' attention.
An approach I've created that seems to work very well utilizes ambassadors instead of reporters. Ambassadors carry forward the spirit and key insights of their group conversation into another brief conversation with a different group. Instead of standing and reporting out to a number of small groups as traditionally is done, ambassadors rotate to a new group and join them at their table. This creates a dialogue between the ambassador and his/her new table, as well as maintains the intimacy of a small group conversation.

When using this technique be sure to stress that ambassadors are to be full participants in the conversation of their initial small group so that they aren't reduced to mere notetakers. In addition, I find it helpful to remind ambassadors that when they carry their home table's thinking to a new small group, they should allow time for the group to react to what they share so that it is a two-way exchange.

People participating in this weaving report feeling much more engaged in the ambassador's visit than they do with the normally process of a reporter for each group verbalizing takeaways. They like the intimacy of the ambassador's sharing, as well as the chance to react and offer their own thinking.

In testing this ambassador format, I find people remain enthusiastic for two rotations of ambassadors visiting.  After that they seem to lose interest as the format (and sometimes the information subsequent ambassadors share) becomes repetitive.

The primary shortcoming of the ambassador approach is that not all of the groups' thinking is being made available to every participant.  If this is a concern (and it won't always be), you can combine the ambassador conversation weaving with one of the earlier reporting variations I mention.

Or try this additional variation: I sometimes have ever person in every group be prepared to serve as ambassadors and then form "mixed table groups" consisting of one person from each of several different tables.  This feels a bit like traditional reporting, but because it occurs in small group format, the physical intimacy seems to keep people fairly engaged. As an option, you can then have the initial groups reform after the mixed groups and invite each person to quickly share one idea or insight they picked up from their mixed group.

What other ways have you tried (or experienced) to better facilitate sharing from small group conversations.