How to Pick the Right Activity: Ask yourself what it's for

There are unlimited ways to facilitate a group.

Unlimited is a great amount when it comes to amusement park rides or data you are allowed to use. But unlimited can go from fun to overwhelming when you’re trying to make definitive choices on how to facilitate a group.

For my first ten years facilitating, I often made choices based on the type of interaction style I thought the group needed. If we’d been doing a lot of large-group activities, I’d pick something in pairs or small groups. If we’d been talking a lot, I’d move us towards reflective activities. This worked pretty well, and is still something I consider. But it wasn’t enough by itself — it didn’t narrow my focus enough, and sometimes led me to overlook the best activity for the moment.

When Sam and I started working on Facilitator Cards, I remember Sam sharing that he saw all the cards fall into four major categories:

  • Emotion: Surfacing thoughts, feelings, reactions, and predispositions
  • Ideation: Forming, generating, and brainstorming ideas and concepts
  • Clarification: Distilling, pinpointing, getting to the bottom, finding common ground
  • Execution: Decision-making, planning, strategizing, directing

I’d never thought of activities like this before. Sure, I’d grouped activities before — energizers, ice-breakers — but a lot of those activities weren’t at the heart of my facilitation. These categories helped me see my facilitations in a whole new light.

And once I had a name for these categories and started to see them as a methodology, I found myself more confident choosing from the unlimited menu.

I would start by asking myself a question to identify which of these categories I needed to focus on. That question would be something like, “At this point in the facilitation, what does the group need to do? What type of goal do we have in this moment? Do we need to surface what’s already there? Generate ideas? Clarify ideas? Decide on a plan to move forward?”

Once I knew what category of activity I needed to be in (emotion, ideation, clarification, or execution), I’d move into thinking about interaction style, props needed, and other factors I wanted to consider.

These categories have helped me deal with the overwhelm of the unlimited. They’ve helped me narrow and focus my attention on what’s important for my group, and they’ve helped me feel more confident in the choices I make as a facilitator.

So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, underconfident, or unfocused, consider applying this lens to your activity choices. And then let us know how it goes!

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