Mastering facilitation: tools and techniques

Design Research Techniques for Designit Bengaluru - Photo by Kinshuk Bose
Cooper Professional Education instructors Pooja Khadkiwala (left) and Ishita Mahajan (right) lead a Design Research Techniques course.

A key milestone in many of the projects we do at Designit Bengaluru is a co-ideation and validation workshop. It’s one of the best ways to get stakeholders — from both the client organization and internal teams — together for four to six hours. With the right facilitation, everyone can then agree on and contribute to the ongoing project, which could be anything from modernizing a legacy system to defining strategic roadmaps for a new business in an emerging market.

These workshops give teams a chance to align with stakeholders. You’ll want to nudge the group toward agreement so that, once you go back to the drawing board, the technology and design teams have clarity from a business point of view and the assurance that what they design or propose next has been approved. By the end of these sessions, you’ll also have various ideas to build upon toward the solution.

As a researcher and service designer, I’ve conducted a number of such workshops. However, facilitating educational experiences as an instructor for Cooper Professional Education has required a major shift in my thought process. It’s been a journey from pushing for decisions to exploring how to interpret the process and methods of design thinking.

Emphasize working through problems with the methods at hand rather than creating the “right” solution.

Attendees of our courses can include entrepreneurs, product managers, team leads, aspiring designers, etc. Our sole purpose for those two days is helping them understand the material and emerge better equipped to apply the principles taught.

Design Research Techniques for Designit Bengaluru - Photo by Kinshuk Bose

When leading design thinking workshops, instructors must balance observation and facilitation. Here are some of the most important things to observe and how to respond:

Group dynamic

Groups often have an alpha, type-A personality who instantly assumes leadership. In this situation, introverts might drift away into disinterest or struggle to make their voice heard. Ask the introverts questions and for their point of view. Direct the team to consider their perspective by paraphrasing it yourself.

Calls for help

People might reach out to get answers to very specific questions or for help getting started on an activity. Be on the lookout for these needs but avoid intruding on the group. Encourage group members to work it out for themselves.

Method vs. solution

Participants might come up with great solutions even when the sample case they’re working on is hypothetical. Emphasize working through problems with the methods at hand rather than creating the “right” solution, and don’t solve problems for them. It’s best to give an example of a situation from which they can find the answer for themselves.

Energy in the room

There will be obvious spikes and dips in energy levels at different points of the day. Identifying those dips is key to helping participants get through these intense brain-churning sessions. Then, incorporate fun activities! Manage the energy in the room by bringing in light physical activities like stretching or a seemingly silly game of “clap, click, stomp.” (This involves participants working in pairs and alternately reciting 1 – 2 – 3. As the game progresses, numbers are replaced by actions, breaking the flow of 1 – 2 – 3. So, 1 is a clap, then 2 – 3; then clap – stomp – 3; and finally, clap – stomp – click.)

Design Research Techniques for Designit Bengaluru - Photo by Kinshuk Bose

Taking on the mindset of a facilitator of educational experiences has made me a more empathetic and patient consultant. Here are some of the major insights I’ve gained into building empathy during facilitation:

You don’t need to have all the answers

Explore ideas and possibilities with your audience. Put questions to the group: “What do you think about this?” You’d be surprised how many great thoughts will be shared. It’s always better to gather perspectives than provide the “correct” answer.

Understand what the other person knows

A collaborative session is about discovering what the other person’s understanding is and their knowledge base. Go after the stories and the peripheral information; the background of experiences is what really brings out the human touch.

Listen and paraphrase

To get those stories, ask the right questions and then really listen. Be attentive enough to narrate the story or perspective back. This helps you make sure your understanding is accurate and helps the other person articulate and elaborate on their thoughts.

Balance between the process and solution

Whether it’s a strategic design or training engagement, participants will always want to reach to the perfect solution. However, the process is just as important as the end result, and having the patience and the guidance of a good coach will lead you to there.

If you’d like to learn more about facilitation in your organization, sign up for our two-day Facilitating Design Thinking course.

Pooja Khadkiwala
Pooja Khadkiwala

Pooja Khadkiwala is a Principle Design Researcher and Cooper Professional Education instructor at Designit Bengaluru.

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