Can’t get everyone to participate in your meetings? These techniques offer anonymity to members, generate lots of activity and encourage even the most reluctant and shy participant to play an active part.

Discussion Partners
Use this simple technique to start any discussion. After posing a question to a large group, ask everyone to find a partner and discuss the question for a few minutes. Have people report on what they talked about. You can use this with groups of three as well.

Tossed Salad
Place an empty cardboard box or bowl on the table. Give out small slips of paper and ask people to write down one good idea per slip. Have them put the slips into the bowl. When people have finished, have someone toss the salad. Pass around the bowl so that each person can take out as many slips as he tossed in. Go around the table and have people share ideas before discussing and refining the most promising ones together.

Issues and Answers
When faced with a long list of issues to tackle, rather than attempting to address them as a whole group (which would take forever), post the problems around the room. Put only one issue on each sheet of flipchart paper.

Ask all members to go to one of the issue sheets and discuss that problem with others drawn to that sheet. Make sure people are distributed evenly, with at least three people per issue. You can use chairs, but this works best as a stand-up activity.

Allow up to five minutes for the subgroups to analyze the situation. Have them make notes on the top half of the flipchart sheet. Ring a bell and ask the participants to move to another flipchart sheet. When they get there, ask them to read the analysis made by the first group and to add any additional ideas. This round is often shorter than five minutes. Keep moving people around until everyone is back at their original sheet.

Once the analysis round is complete, ask the participants to return to the issue with which they started. Ask them to generate and record solutions to their respective issues on the bottom half of the sheet. Once again circulate people until everyone has added ideas on all of the sheets.

To end the process have everyone walk by each sheet, read the solutions and check off the one or two ideas they think are the best. When everyone is seated again, go through the ideas together and then ask each small group to create an action plan for the ideas on one of the sheets.

Talk and Answers
This technique works best in a large crowd because it creates a strong buzz and lets people know each other. Start by posing a question to the group and then allow quiet time for each person to write his own response.

Ask everyone to sit knee-to-knee with a partner and share his ideas. Have one person speak while the other acts as facilitator. After two to three minutes, ring a bell and have partners reverse their roles. After two or three more minutes, stop the discussions.

Ask everyone to find a new partner and repeat the process, but in slightly less time. Stop the action and then have everyone repeat the process with a third partner.

In the final round, allow only one minute per person. When the partner discussions are over, discuss the ideas as a whole group and record them on flipcharts.

Pass the Envelope
Give each person an envelope filled with blank slips of paper. Pose a question or challenge to the group, and then have participants write down as many ideas as they can within the given time frame and put the slips into the envelopes. Tell the participants to pass the envelopes, either to the next person or in all directions, and when the passing stops, read the contents. Pair off participants and have them discuss the ideas in their two envelopes. What ideas did they receive? What are the positives and negatives of each idea? What other ideas should they add? Combine pairs to form groups of four and ask them to further refine the content of their four envelopes into practical action plans. Hold a plenary to collect ideas.

About the Author

Ingrid Bens, MEd.
Ingrid Bens, MEd., has been a OD consultant and trainer for over twenty years. Her areas of specialty include leadership development, teambuilding, total quality management training and facilitation skills.

Her first book, Facilitating With Ease! will soon be published by Jossey-Bass. To find out more about Ingrid's other publications and upcoming facilitation skills workshops in Clearwater, Florida, check out www.participative-dynamics.com.


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