Oops…When the Facilitator Does Not Get the Product the Group Needs

Group Product

Everyone has bad facilitator days when the group did not get the outcomes or specific product they needed. No worries. It happens to me all the time. Well, more rarely these days but a lot in the early days…So what are you to do about it? My mentor, Bill Staples of ICA Associates, Canada helped me out a lot in my first 5 years or so when I was less happy with outcomes produced. Plus I just tried a few things and they worked. Here are three reasons why the product does not emerge the way it should from your workshop or meeting. And of course, my suggestions for how to get the product no matter what the reason for failure to launch!

We’ve kept this blog shorter than usual as I also want to reflect on the importance of 2020 in immensely changing the world of facilitation. See below these 3 points about product for that.

1. We didn’t have enough time to get the product we wanted

This is a very common problem. Perhaps you were over ambitious with your agenda and didn’t leave enough time to really cement or “nail down” the product that the group really needed to proceed. Sometimes you just spent a little bit too much time upfront discussing things or doing “sidebar” things that weren’t really critical to the product development. So what are you going to do about it?

  • I summarize the notes very succinctly and perhaps even have a graphic to illustrate what they’ve done so far. I suggest a couple of next steps to get the product they need. For example, get a small representative group together to develop a draft product on behalf of the whole group which can then be ratified asynchronously or in a future meeting.
  • You can also just call for another short meeting (at no extra charge if you are external) and ask some good questions like: What do we have in place already that helps us know what our product could be? What are some key elements of the product we are looking for? How will we know if we have a good product? Given all of this, what do we think our product is/needs to be? Who will develop a draft document or graphic that illustrates what our product is? When and how will we ratify this product?

2. You forgot to get a product!

OK, this is not so common with more skilled facilitators but it happens to a lot of us because we don’t know how to corral the group’s energy towards decisional level activities and conversations. Or, you were just so enamored with the conversation, you forgot to think about how to bring things to closure. Or, maybe you didn’t really need a product. How do you solve this problem? Do you want the group to know that the time together was worth the time? Yes! How can you or the group summarize up what the group thinking was?

  • If you did this on an online platform, you can review the recording and pull out some of the key points that seem to be pointing to a product. Be sure to include the original objectives or aims of the meeting and the key question being asked.
  • You could tentatively pull together a document (ideally with lots of great graphics) that seems to cover the key summary points of the activities you did. Test it out on a small group of people that were attending. Then finalize the product and send it out.

3. The group cannot seem to agree on what the product should be.

  • If it’s after your meeting or workshop, you might want to get together with a few key people from the group and ask questions such as the ones above. Or: What key points have we heard from the group about what needs to happen next? If we haven’t heard much from them on product, how could we solicit their input e.g. Google Forms, Survey Monkey, focus group research?
  • Get everyone who is part of the group to brainstorm ideas asynchronously if needed, to a good focus question such as: What will be the most valuable product needed for this moment in time? Then either invite the whole group or a sub group together to cluster like ideas using e.g., the ToP Consensus Workshop method.  Use Google Jamboard, Miro or Mural, etc. to cluster. Then name each group as an outcome or defined product, e.g., user-friendly editable document people to guide future policymaking. After you have identified a few of the key components of the product, call the group back together and ask, “If you did nothing else, which of these would be a critical help to our team or our organization to move forward?” And then build an action plan for each of the component parts that are critical.


There’s no need to blame yourself or the group for not getting the product that was needed at the moment. Simply recognize it early and take steps to rectify it. That is part of our work as group process facilitators – i.e., help bring out the amazing results and ideas that live in the minds of every person in the group. Then ensure they synthesize it into a tangible and forward-thinking product.

What do you do when the group doesn’t get the product they need?

Leave a comment below…

Year End Reflection: The Immense Leap Facilitation Has Taken in 2020

I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the year as it pertains to my experiences with group facilitation. I’ve witnessed and taken part in what feels like more change in the last 10 months than I have seen in the last 25 years. The four points below all seem like positive changes to me.

What are the changes and why are they positive?

1. New people are getting into the field by virtue of the technology.  Perhaps certain leaders or experts in other fields had never thought about needing facilitation as a critical everyday skill in their lives. Now they are realizing that we can’t just have online meetings full of people in boxes, multi-tasking and barely present. We need something else. People are less willing to live with the drudgery of the plain old meeting when they don’t have the third dimension of space, facial gestures, casual conversations and joking. We’ve all had to become better at making our meetings and online interactions more productive, more connecting, more meaningful. We can’t just rely on showing up in a room anymore, winging it. The people who have been using technology for awhile are responding and using facilitation skills more than in the past. Leaders who used to be hierarchical are realizing they need facilitation skills also. The WHO of the field of facilitation is expanding. This is good!

2. Facilitation has also grown in depth and sophistication because of companies producing better platforms. I used to use Adobe Connect for Meetings for five or six years before even considering Zoom, interactive slides and whiteboard technologies. At first, Zoom was very limited. But as I saw others combining Zoom or Teams with platforms such as Miro, Mural, Google slides, etc., these simpler platforms have become amazing products for the general population. The platform developers have done an amazing job with keeping up with our facilitator needs. Google has just come up with a vast array of products for those of us who can’t afford to buy expensive platforms. So with point 1 and point 2, we are saying not only are there changes in WHO facilitates but HOW we facilitate, especially with the online platforms. And our brains are thinking creatively about how to do this in this very different environment. This is good too!

3. Increased awareness about the impact of racialized trauma and race issues amongst my own white group (especially facilitators I hang out with) is helping us think about facilitation in different ways. It makes us think more about how to be inclusive and welcoming specially when technology can exacerbate white supremacy tendencies. This has changed also how we think about our interactions, our meeting questions and language, speaking order, etc. This has been a beautiful and remarkable change that I have witnessed. I am more hopeful than I have been in the past that we will to continue witnessing new ways of decreasing systemic racism and behaviour. We still have a long way to go but I am encouraged by new awareness and commitment in my own white group peers.

4. Earlier in 2020, we jumped into the new technologies. We had a lot of fun discovering and creating. And then we realized once again. It’s not just about the tools! Several of my brilliant colleagues began to ask themselves, “How can we fix a gap in online meetings – the missing human connection element?” We had taken for granted the bantering and impact of human 3-D bodies together in physical space. Now, we are wondering how to be more intentional about creating cohesiveness, trust, vulnerability, transparency, authenticity, etc.? These qualities have gotten more attention I think this year than in previous years in our field. We came to the conclusion that we cannot just rely on the fun platforms and tools we’ve created over the last year. It’s not just about the tools. Humans need to connect. Experienced F2F facilitators know this but it becomes quickly and painfully obvious to the beginner facilitator too in the online meetings. As a result, facilitators have had to grow their competencies faster than in the previous two decades. We are learning in a year what some of us took 5-10 years to know and learn.

There is a lot more to say but the net result is that I am enormously proud of us as facilitators experienced nd new. We’ve come so far this year in terms of understanding the importance of the “dance” we create together… the impact we want to have… Please ” keep calm and carry on”. Continue innovating and bringing new people into the field!

2020 had its beautiful and supremely painful moments and many of us are glad it is coming to a close. I say congratulations. We made it. 😊

Have a great start to 2021.

Your thoughts on changes we have experienced in our field?

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.

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