If  you are a typical purchaser considering onsite facilitation training, there are probably lots of standard questions you would ask the training vendor.  Common questions might include:  “What are the topics? What are the desired outcomes?  How long is the class?  How much does it cost? Is customization available?” Based on these basic questions, you could easily conclude that facilitation classes are pretty similar, so you might as well choose the least expensive or the most conveniently located.

Yet, for the shrewd buyer, there is a much tougher set of inquiries.  These questions tend to focus on the fundamental issue of ensuring that positive change results from the training.  As a training vendor,  we have found that buyers who ask the following questions tend to get a much clearer picture of how one course differs from another.

  1. Is the course just a collection of topics, or is a structured methodology used?

While specific topics are nice, the better facilitation courses provide the attendees with a comprehensive, soup-to-nuts approach to running facilitated meetings.  The approach should go from preparing to session closing, and include how to have an engaging start, keep the group focused, manage dysfunction, etc.  The facilitation methodology gives participants a framework for facilitating any meeting.  Likewise, along with the methodology, the better courses also demonstrate how to employ it across process agendas such as strategic planning.

  1. Are your instructors professional facilitators or just trainers?

Trainers can tell you how to facilitate, but professional facilitators show you what actually works.  They bring real-world examples that make the material come alive.  Professional facilitators also reinforce the material by modeling the techniques before, during, and after they teach them. As a result, participants continually hear and see how to use the techniques throughout the course.

  1. How many times has the training vendor taught the class in its present form? When and what were the last updates?

This is a loaded question!  On one hand you might not want to be the beta test for a course. Therefore, the training vendor should be able to prove that the course has been taught several dozen times.  However, you will typically want a course that is current and has been updated in the last year.  Listen for the quality and type of additions made.  If the last update covered basic topics, there may be other areas where the basics are still missing!

  1. How many times does each person facilitate? Is that enough?

You don’t become a good tennis player by reading about how to play tennis!  Likewise, to improve your facilitation skills, you have to facilitate.  We have found that five or six facilitation opportunities for each individual provides the level of practice needed for significant, transformative change to occur over a three or four-day course.

  1. What is the training vendor’s feedback process? Is honest feedback provided, or are real issues glossed over?

Contrary to popular belief, practice does not make perfect.  Honest feedback and application of that feedback must shortly follow the practice.  Listen for how the training vendor sets up the feedback process.  Is a safe environment created that respects each person’s individuality, yet promotes honest communication about strengths and areas for improvement?  Is both verbal and written feedback provided?  How are participants encouraged to apply the feedback in subsequent exercises?  With a well-designed practice-feedback-application cycle, students rapidly make significant gains in performance.

RELATED: Seven Keys to Effective Feedback

  1. What is the biggest complaint attendees have about the course?

You may have to dig a little here.  As training vendors, we traditionally don’t like talking about our negatives.  Listen for openness and honesty.  Once you understand the complaints past participants have given, ask, “How do we make sure this isn’t a problem in our class?”  Incidentally, improvement is possible for every course.  So, be weary of the vendor who says, “There are no complaints.”  More likely the vendor lacks transparency or doesn’t listen well to customers – both of which are sufficient grounds for you to consider finding another place to do business.

  1. Which topics have people found least beneficial? Why should we bother to have you cover these?

Again, this is an openness and honesty check.  If the vendor is frank, you will have an opportunity to customize the class to maximize the benefit to your participants.  If you detect that the vendor is not being honest, consider the remedy described for the prior question.

  1. What happens in the classroom to make sure the trainees “get it”?

While practice-feedback-application is a critical part of students “getting it”, there is another major component.  Training vendors must deliver course content in a way that successfully transfers it to the students.  A key to learning transfer is an instructor who is intentional about focusing on the “what” (what do you do?), the “how” (how you do it?), and most importantly, the “why” (why it is beneficial to do?). Participants achieve the benefits of learning the tools and are better able to  apply them after the class when they are sold on the “why”.

  1. How will I know whether my trainees “got it”?

Taking a course does not automatically mean that knowledge transfer occurred.  The better facilitation courses provide a means for the training sponsor to receive feedback on what participants plan to do, and have done, following the class to implement what has been learned.

  1. What take-away tools do you provide as the training vendor? What follow-up mechanisms are there to shore up skills?

The workbook should provide enough of an outline to guide participants through several different types of facilitated sessions.  In addition, there should be follow-up emails and webinars to reinforce the learning. Finally, advanced classes and one-on-one coaching sessions should be available.

Please note: You should not consider these questions to be a substitute for reviewing the workbook, talking to references, and seeing a sample of the class.  In conjunction with these activities, the questions provide a strong source of information for clearly distinguishing one training vendor from another.

Learn more about facilitation skills in our courses, Facilitating Masterful Meetings (two-day fundamental meeting skill building) and The Effective Facilitator (four-day deep group facilitation skill building).  These courses provide a structured approach for facilitating groups through successful meetings and covers techniques for getting amazing results from groups.