It seems that all groups have a natural propensity to want to wander and go off track. Of course, some groups do this much more than others—have you ever tried to keep a group of sales and marketing people focused? Can you say, “Squirrel”?

So facilitators need to be equipped with tools to prevent the wandering and to gently correct it should it occur. We recommend three strategies in particular to help keep a group focused and on track.

  • Label your charts.
  • Ask extended prompt questions.
  • Ask redirection questions.

1. Label your Charts

Before starting any agenda item in a facilitation session where you expect to request responses, you should always label your flip charts or other recording media with the title of the agenda item. Why do this?

  • This simple technique helps remind the group of the topic being discussed.
  • It also allows all participants to see when subjects are being discussed or information is being recorded that is not in line with this topic.

2. Ask Extended Prompt Questions

For many facilitators, if they are building a list of answers to a question such as, “What are the steps in the current hiring process,” after each response, they then ask, “What else?” in order to keep things moving.

And indeed, the prompt question is frequently sufficient for prompting a group that has stalled. However, to help ensure that the responses you receive are focused on the content you want, consider asking an extended prompt question instead: “What other steps are there in the current hiring process?”

3. Ask Redirection Questions

As you facilitate, you must carefully monitor the interaction to ensure that comments and questions are related to the topic at hand. If the group begins to detour to an unrelated discussion, bring them back on course by using a redirection question. For example, “That’s an excellent point. Can you help me understand how it relates to…?” If it is not related, ask, “Would it be okay if we put it on the issues list so we don’t lose it, and then focus back on…?”

To avoid group dysfunction, remember to always ask permission before re-directing a comment to the issues list. By asking, you get the participant’s buy-in. What do you do if you ask for permission to table the issue and the participant disagrees? You may find it helpful to put the question to the group!

To learn more about facilitation skills, consider our course, The Effective Facilitator. The four-day workshop provides a structured approach for leading teams and facilitating meetings and covers a variety of techniques for getting amazing results from groups.