I know it may sound minor, but it is none-the-less very important: Take the time to ensure that the room is set-up to maximize involvement, engagement, and effectiveness based on your facilitation approach.
How should you set up the room? It depends on many factors of course. But at Leadership Strategies we believe the four primary factors, and in order of priority, are the following.
- The overall purpose of the session
- The size of the group
- The engagement strategies you will be using
- Your personal preferences and the preferences of the group
No matter what your core facilitation work is, we believe it all starts with purpose. Here are three examples of how purpose might influence your room set-up.
- If your session purpose is to gain feedback through a focus group, you may find that having chairs in a circle, without tables can be very effective.
- If your purpose is strategic planning that includes an extensive review of a briefing book, you might use a U-shape with tables so people can comfortably review and write.
- If you are facilitating team building, you might use pods by splitting participants into three or four sub-teams, with each team seated around a separate table.
Size of the Group
While we believe purpose is the primary key to determining room set-up, the size of the group may result in making alterations.
- If your focus group exceeds 18-20, a single circle may be too large to get the sense of intimacy you desire. Accordingly, you might arrange the chairs in three smaller semi-circles with the openings facing the center of the room.
- Likewise, if your strategic planning team exceeds 18-20 people, you may very well find that pods are more appropriate.
- If the number of participants in your team building session is under 10, you might choose a U-shape set-up and have just one team.
In our Engagement Strategies Manual (purchasable from the Leadership Strategies Store) you will find numerous tips and methods for engaging groups, including five of my favorites: Last Person Standing, Gifts and Hooks, Rotating Flip Charts, Brief Encounters, and Dump and Clump. Depending upon your engagement plan, the room set-up can facilitate the participants more easily executing the engagement strategy.
As an example, Dump and Clump and Rotating Flip Charts require teams. Therefore a room set-up that already has participants split into smaller groups makes it easier to execute these methods.
Your Personal Preferences and the Preferences of the Group
With everything else being equal, it usually makes sense for the facilitator to set-up the room in a way that will be most comfortable for the facilitator and the group.
A Few Other Thoughts
Regardless of your overall room set-up, please consider the following.
- Avoid classroom style set-ups and large conference tables since these are not conducive to group interaction and inhibit the facilitator’s ability to control the discussion.
- Arrange your room set-up so that participants enter from the back or the side to avoid distractions from participants who arrive late or are delayed in returning from a break.
- Likewise, have windows on the side or in the back to avoid outside distractions.
- If possible, position enthusiastic contributors throughout the room to encourage discussion; intersperse known supporters and adversaries.
- Ensure that adequate supplies (tape, markers, dots, flip charts) and backup equipment are available.
- Establish your wall plan so that charts will be posted in an orderly fashion throughout the session. Position parking boards, agenda, and ground rules near the front of the room for easy access and viewing.
To learn more facilitation skills, consider our course, The Effective Facilitator. The four-day course provides a structured approach for leading teams and facilitating meetings and covers over 100 techniques for getting amazing results from groups.
About the Author
Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, the largest provider of professional facilitators and facilitation training in the country. Michael is a much sought after trainer, facilitator and speaker. He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a Certified Professional Facilitator. As a past president of the Southeast Association of Facilitators, the creator of the FindaFacilitator.com database and a board member of the International Institute of Facilitation, Michael is a national leader in the facilitation industry. You can get more tips from Michael’s books, including The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy, The Secrets of Facilitation, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and CLICK: The Virtual Meetings Book.