Facilitate like a Boss — Maybe not quite like a boss

Facilitate like a boss

Last Friday I attended a great presentation at Academy Xi by Rich Brophy called ‘Facilitate like a Boss: Tips, Tricks and Hacks to Level-Up your Workshops’. You might not want to facilitator like your boss but a Boss meaning the master or first-rate, not the manager, calf or hollow meanings of boss. The focus was on design workshops but as we know people are people. It is always good to learn new things and get confirmation on the things that you already know. Rich defined a facilitator as

“Psychologist, strategist, detective, interpreter, lion tamer and nanny”

The role of a facilitator is to provide the setup of the room, the energy and workshop structure so people can bring their best. I really liked this visual representation of what is and isn’t the purpose of workshops.

Don't look for consensus look for variety of ideas

Rich presented two different concepts intertwined with each other.

  1. Tips and Hints for running workshops (covered in this post)
  2. How to recognise and bring the best out of different participants. (well it was more like dealing with difficult participants) (This will be a separate post)

Rich used a sailing analogy which I quite liked.

Charting a Course

Charting a course

This stage is all about preparation. Here is just a short list of things to check off in this stage

  • Define the outcome
  • Set a realistic agenda
  • Understand the bigger picture
  • Assemble the right team
  • Curate the experience
  • Make it intuitive
  • Plan for carnage

A few of these I hadn’t considered too much before and a couple of extra ones that I like to undertake are

  • Provide preparation materials
  • Reach out to the team beforehand

Setting Sail

Yacht at sunset - Setting sail

This is the execution stage. Here are a few things to consider as you set sail.

  • Set the scene
  • Establish the rules
  • Create the vibe
  • Unify the group
  • Open the room
  • Watch & listen
  • Close things off

These create a safe space for people to explore and experiment and to come up with a diversity of ideas. As Rich presented this I got the following diagram in my head based on a crescendo and decrescendo in music.

Crescendo and decrescendo of ideas

Working with the weather

Working with the Weather
This is all about being adaptable to changes and issues on the run. Plan for them and go with the flow sometimes. Here are Rich’s tips.
  • Remember the outcome
  • Chop & change
  • Bring back the energy
  • Cut & run
  • Silences signal disagreements
  • Be provocative
  • Take it outside

The biggest tip and overriding aim of facilitation is to

Understand the journey the participants need to take and guide them through.


I really enjoyed this presentation and am excited to have learnt new tips. It has made me revise and sure up my own process for running workshops. There is not one way to facilitate a workshop but there is always the basic principles that go into making a great workshop — Preparation, Execution and Review.

I’m interested to know what tips you have that aren’t included on these lists. Put them in the comments below and share them with others.