The Facilitation Four-Step(tm)

Posted by Doc
Feb 04 2009

As I was preparing to deliver the Facilitation workshops this week, I realized that I do have a simple system for dealing with many of the antipattern behaviors. For the sake of discussion, I’m calling it the Facilitation Four-Step(tm).

What I realized was that I have done the same things over and over, without ever consciously identifying what I was doing.

Here it is:

  1. Interrupt
  2. Ask
  3. Redirect
  4. Commit


When I recognize that a destructive or non-collaborative behavior is occurring, the first step is to interrupt it. Always act with respect – that is, it doesn’t matter how I might feel about the person or the behavior, I should always treat people with respect.

Interruption is as simple as “excuse me”.

Professor Moriarty whispering to the woman next to her? “Excuse me.” Gently, respectfully, but clearly. Just enough to get their attention.

Gladiator engaging in combat? “Excuse me.”

Superhero comforting someone? “Excuse me.”


The next step is to ask if it’s okay to do something else. Like “Do you mind holding onto that thought for a minute?” or “Is it okay if we come back to that in a little bit?”

It’s important that the Ask make it clear that we aren’t ignoring or diminishing what they’re saying. Rather we want to communicate that it is important, but that something else must take priority at the moment.

Implicit in the Ask can be both the redirect and the commitment. So, for instance, the ask might be…


“Would you mind holding that thought? I’d like to allow Jane to finish her thought.”

“Is it okay if we come back to that after Mark has a chance to say something?”

The redirect is turning attention away from the “offender” and onto someone else. The someone else is frequently one of two types of participants: someone who is shy and withdrawn or just quiet; or the “victim” of the “offender’s” behavior. It breaks the pattern, shifts the group’s energy, and still shows respect for the offender.


If you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll have noticed that in each case, the question also included the Commit.

“Is it okay if we come back to that after Mark has a chance to say something?” is one example.

If the Commit is not explicly included in the Ask and Redirect, then I add it.

“Would you mind holding that thought? I’d like to allow Jane to finish her thought. Then we’ll come back to you. Is that okay?”

This technique has worked quite successfully for me for many years.

Simple, clear, respectful, and paying attention to what’s important to and for the group.

5 Responses

  1. Eric Willeke says:

    I noticed you doing this in Chicago at the MDC Community Space. It was obvious that you’ve done this for a very long time, and it was instinctive to you… at one point you were working on your laptop and not really a part of the conversation (a group of 6-7) at all, but when it split into two conversations that weren’t learning from each other you entered a quiet “excuse me” to the offenders, solving the problem, and made it look entirely effortless.

  2. I like the questioning/inquiry aspect of this, Steven.

    I’ve also found that offering observations about observable behavior in situations in which ‘non’collaborative behavior is occurring, checking if the observation valid, then asking about exploring it is also really powerful – and simple. it also permits the group to take responsibility for dealing with it.

    i describe this here: and then some prevention ideas here:

    what do you think?
    ~ ellen

    PS thanks for adding facilitation to Fresher Fair! look forward to meeting you at Agile 2009.

  3. […] with this requires the strength to choose when to cut off a conversation (The Facilitation Four-Step), offer to either park it or consider it done, and keep the group moving forward. Challenging, but […]

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