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Facilitation Skills: Using Ground Rules to Prevent Dysfunction

One of the best ways a facilitator can anticipate problems in a group discussion is to set ground rules. Ground rules orient participants with what is expected from them. Moreover, they set boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior during the discussion. For best results, ground rules must be set in a consultative fashion, with the rules, and sometimes the consequences of violation of rules, negotiated among members of the group and agreed upon by consensus.

When setting ground rules, it is important to both verify if the rules are understood, and if they are acceptable. Make sure too that a documentation of the ground rules is available for everyone, either as a hand-out or posted in a flipchart paper for everyone to see.

Ground rules in a group meeting can relate to:

  • How to make the most of the meeting. For example: practice timely attendance, participate fully.
  • How to make a contribution to the discussion. For example: do the members raise their hands and ask the facilitator for permission to speak; use I-messages.
  • How members should treat other members. For example: “don’t interrupt whoever is speaking, listen actively to whoever has the floor, accept that everyone has a right to their own opinion, no swearing or any aggressive behavior.
  • Issues relating to confidentiality. Example: all matters discussed in the group shall remain within the group. This is also the moment for the facilitator to reveal if the minutes of the meeting will remain solely for his or her reference, or will it be given to an authority in the organization.
  • How violations of ground rules would be addressed. Example: the use of graduated interventions from warning to expulsion from the group.

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Train-the-Trainer: Types of Activities

The following list is a handy reference of the types of activities that can be the right fit for your training. Although some of the headings may overlap, the definitions are here to give you a better understanding of the range of activities that can be used.

Game: A game is an exercise that normally has a set of rules and an element of competition. Games often include some kind of reward.

Icebreakers: Icebreakers are used as an exercise to introduce group members to one another (break the ice), encourage some energy into the beginning of a workshop, and lead into the topic material. They are an important starting point to your training session.

Energizer: An energizer is a brief pick-me-up activity designed to invigorate a group if energy in the room is waning, or to bring them back together following a break. Energizers are often about five minutes long.

Simulations: A simulation is useful to train equipment operators when the tools that they will use are either very expensive or dangerous. Simulations are designed to be as realistic as possible so that participants can learn from the situation without worrying about damage or financial cost. Flying aircraft, offshore emergency evacuation procedures, combat training, and driving all make use of simulation training.

Role Plays: Role-playing is a helpful way to understand how participants react to certain situations. They are a very useful approach for practicing new skills in a non-threatening environment, where a participant learns to apply behavioral techniques and gets feedback without fear of making a mistake in front of their own customers or clients. Role-plays are helpful in learning conflict management, counseling, sales, negotiating, and many other skills.

Case Studies: Case studies are stories normally extracted from a participant’s workplace or industry. They can also be written specifically to simulate a scenario. Case studies are often examined by individuals or groups and then analyzed to stimulate discussion or demonstrate aspects of training.