Facilitation Tools – Do’s and Don’ts!


Everyone seems to want to know more facilitation tools. Every course we teach, we hear participants say, “I want more tools for my facilitation toolkit”. We’d like to remind you that a facilitation tool is worth nothing if you don’t know how to do it correctly and you don’t have the right tone and stance to deliver it beautifully. Even if you are an experienced facilitator, you may be surprised at what you learn in this article. If you are one of the people who say, “I want more tools”, my questions to you are:

  • Do you know what type of tools you need? (read more below)
  • Do you have enough of each type of tool? (assess yourself below – you may be pleasantly surprised)
  • Do you know when to use a particular tool? (read more below and check out our resources section)

What are Facilitation Tools?

Seems like too simple of a question, no? Tools are exercises or single processes/activities every facilitator uses regardless of how they have been trained. Typically, we use tools to:

    1. 1) Ensure a group is engaged and connected to each other and to the content of the meeting.
    1. 2) Maximize participants’ abilities to come up with a better smarter product (e.g., two commonly known tools that do this brainstorming tools and criteria matrix).
    1. 3) Help the facilitator achieve outcomes or results for the group at critical points in the intervention (i.e., making a decision, reaching agreement, resolving a conflict, prioritizing among many options, solving a problem, etc.)

Here is an analogy that might help some of you understand how to better use tools rather than just collect them like you are a tools-junkie or hobbyist. 🙂 I am a yoga practitioner. My tools are my asana poses, breathing, meditation, etc. Do I just learn 1000 poses and string them together anyway I want? No, I choose a few carefully to flow together well and provide me a balanced practice. Do I learn one pose quickly and eagerly seek to know a few more poses? No, I learn the depth of one pose, learn how to work with breath and stillness needed for that pose, see how my body responds to it, and adjust depending on what my body needs for that day. Do I learn only one pose at a time? No, I learn 5-10 basic poses, study how they might work together, practice them for awhile and then adjust them to my needs. You get my point, right? Just apply all these questions to your current practice of gathering facilitator tools. Ask, “What will serve me best right now? What will serve my clients better?” Practice what you know or find the best next suite of complimentary tools and get some expert guidance on when and how to apply them.

Below we list 10 facilitator competencies and give you examples of specific tools within each competency category.  We’d love to hear about other examples of tools that you use for each category. This is not a perfect categorization of tools. Some tools repeat in some categories because they aid several thinking processes. Some I know who the author is; others I don’t. Some of these are more complex tools and I would categorize them also as frameworks. You may not agree with some categorizations. There are many more tools for each category – this is just a sampling. Let us know!

How to Use This Facilitation Tools Checklist

I recommend you look over the ten competency categories and self-assess.  Ask yourself, “Do I have a few tools I know and use well in each of the competencies?”.  I recommend that you know at least two or three tools within each of the 10 competency categories below. Add any tools you already know but are not listed in the blank lines offered (available in the PDF download).

A description of most of these tools can be found by doing an internet web search.  If you cannot find a specific term and are curious about it, please email me and I’ll give you a specific reference where I can.

1.    Engaging Conversations

  •  ToP Focused Conversation (ICA*)
  •  Deliberative Dialogue
  •  Ladder of Inference (C. Argyris)
  •  Coaching Tool for Crucial Conversations (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler)
  •  Round Robin or Structured Round

2.    Surfacing Conflict

  •  Non Violent Communication (M. Rosenberg)
  •  Constructivist Listening (J. Weisglass)
  •  ToP Historical Scan/Journey Wall (ICA)

3.    Team-Building

  • Team Responsibility Matrix
  • Trust survey (C. Feltman)
  • Get to Know You BINGO
  • Team Charter
  • Setting Group Norms/Rules/Guidelines
  • Guiding Principles Creation
  • ToP Story, Song Symbol Workshop (ICA)

4.    Data & Trend Analysis

  •  ToP Historical Scan/Journey Wall (ICA)
  •  ToP Wave Trend Analysis
  •  PEST Environmental Scan
  •  Retrospective Review
  •  Mind Mapping (T. Buzan)
  •  Plus/Minus/Interesting (PMI) (de Bono)
  •  Flow Chart/Diagram
  • Sticky Wall

**Note: The ToP course called Approaches to Environmental Scanning covers a lot of these tools. we offer it in Portland, OR about 1/year or every 2 years.**

5.    Consensus-Building

  •  ToP Consensus Workshop Method (ICA)
  •  Five Finger Method
  •  Affinity Grouping Method
  •  Delineation (M. Wilkinson)
  • Sticky Wall

6.    Idea Generation

  •  Brainstorming
  •  ToP Consensus Workshop Method (ICA)
  •  Nominal Group Technique
  •  “What Is This?” (a warm up to “thinking outside the box”)
  •  Lateral Thinking Technique (de Bono)
  •  Stick ‘em Up (posting ideas on the wall) Brainstorming
  •  Reframing Problems into Opportunities
  •  Divergent and Convergent Thinking

7.    Planning

  • SWOT Analysis
  • Guided Visualization
  • Mission Statement Creation
  •  Goal Setting
  • S.M.A.R.T. Objective Setting
  • Force Field Analysis
  • Hall-Tonna Values Inventory Exercise
  • Mission/Purpose/Vision/Values Statement Creation
  • Team Charter
  • Sticky Wall

8.    Organizational or Team Assessment

  •  ToP Organizational Development Journey Map (ICA)
  •  Wilder Nonprofit Life Stage Assessment (J. Sharken Simon)
  •  Drucker Foundation Self- Assessment Tool (P.F. Druker)
  •  Team Dysfunction Assessment (P. Lencioni)

9.    Decision-Making

  • Gradients of Agreement Scale (S. Kaner)
  •  Dot or Multi-Voting
  •  Decision Grid Matrix/Criteria Diagram
  •  Consensus Decision Making (S. Kaner)
  •  Harvard Business Review of Decision-Making
  •  Decision Tree
  •  Decision Criteria Matrix

10.    Problem-Solving

  • Fishbone Diagram
  • Six Thinking Hats (de Bono)
  • 5 Ordered Steps of Problem Solving
  • ToP Contradictions Workshop (ICA)
  • The 5 Why’s Pairs Exercise
  • Force Field Analysis
  • Reconciling Differences (F. Trompenar; Hampden-Turner)
  • Mind Mapping (T. Buzan)

*Institute of Cultural Affairs developed the Technology of Participation (ToP® suite of tools in USA www.ica-usa.org/; In Canada – www.ica-associates.ca

Note: This blog is a revised version of a blog we published in 2012. We just think that it’s one of those topics that is immortal!

Total Score: How many boxes did you tick?

____ 20-30+ (and >2 in each category) Doing Great!
____ 15-20 (and >2 in each category) Pretty good – may want a few more tools.
____ <15 (and none in some categories) Time to access more tools!


Here’s where you can learn many of the tools above:

ToP Facilitation Methods – learn the Focused Conversation Method, Consensus Workshop Method, Action Planning Method

Blogs that cover tools:

All Things Sticky – Care and Use of Sticky Walls

The One Stop Shopping Tool

How to Prioritize… When a Group Says EVERYTHING is Important

Top 12 Suite of Tools for the Competent Facilitator

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.


  1. Alisa Oyler on July 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Barb – This is great! Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ll be sending training grads looking for a little more context to put their professional ambitions into this way for resources.

  2. Elaine Phillips on July 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks for this Barb! It’s a great refresher and I really enjoy getting your news letter. (I love the new picture and hairstyle too! So nice to see you looking well and happy!)

  3. Jerry (Ethan) Mings on July 23, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks so much for the ongoing series.

    One of the tools not on the list is Theory of Contraints by E. Goldratt.

    One of the learning point I observe when I participate in Art and Science at ICA Associates Inc is people have a limited grasp on process. People are anxious to learn “more tools” yet they would really benefit from learning about process. One of the best gifts I learned two years was watching Sam Kaner draw a process map and then talk about the tools. Very insightful and great relief.

    The reason why I raise the work of Goldratt is that it can help people really understand where the constraint point is in a process. Design using the constraint point first, is the best trick to leverage and make a difference for a group as a facilitator. Without understanding the constraint point, the methods can appear to work in one situation and not in another. With a clear understanding of the constraint point, methods work time and time again.

    The second point is that each method has in it, a resource constraint point[1]. It is the point where every resource in the group is going to be challenged. In the ToP Workshop Method, the constraint point for the group is at the Naming Section of the process. No matter what you do, that part of the process is going to take time, energy and group patience. I’m always amazed how people want to speed it up. Instead, if they understand that is the constraint point,one can design the session with that in mind.

    I confess I have a bias about process. As a quality professional, it is the constant I seek in all facilitation and mediation events. Yet, when I see an great facilitation event and map it, the group process is solid and the constraint point is addressed. It is theory in action.

    Which leads me to the final point. If one seeks to understand and find the constraint point in a facilitation design, the design takes on a whole new light. With the constraint point identified in design, confirmed in testing, the group does experience a much difference facilitation experience.

    Theory of constraints is a innovative yet sound, proven through practice, methodology to understand groups and process design. To learn more visit http://www.goldratt.com/pdfs/toctpwp.pdf

    Again, thanks for the great articles. I look forward to the next edition.


    [1] For reading on embedded systems, see the work of Stafford Beer. His book, Diagnosing the System is a classic.

  4. Shyam Kumar on July 23, 2012 at 9:34 pm


    I found your comments to be very interesting and intriguing – and wanted to learn more about your line of thinking.

    Thanks for the interesting comments.



Leave a Comment