The 19 most effective facilitator f#ck-ups

Navigating the minefield of group dynamics as a facilitator


By Kenneth Agerholm, partner in FLOK.

Welcome to another edition of FLOK Facilitation Hacks. We’re about to unravel the intricate world of facilitation through a collection of memorable missteps – many of which, I must confess, I have made myself. Countless hours spent teaching facilitation skills to hundreds of leaders and teams help us identify these common pitfalls that often hold facilitators back from succeding with groups or being the facilitator they wish to be.

You might eye some points of recognition in reading this.

Being at the front of a group can be incredibly rewarding, bursting with fun, and for some of us, almost second nature. Yet, even the most adept among us have our blind spots – those tricky areas lurking in the shadows. It might be skills we lack, challenges we shy away from, or simply aspects we haven’t yet had the chance to explore.

Consider this an inspiration to shine a light on those areas outside the spotlight.

In this article you will find these five categories of weird and wonderful f#ck-ups:

  1. The Group Dynamics Graveyard: Where engagement goes to die
  2. Structured Chaos: The illusion of order
  3. Time Tyrants: Masters of mismanagement
  4. Communication Catastrophes: Missteps in engagement and clarity
  5. Engagement Endgames: Misguided methods and missing actions

As for how to avoid these blunders, much of it comes down to your willingness to learn and grow, through personal research and training. If you’re looking for a more structured approach for your organization or team, feel free to reach out to us. We’re here to help you transform those f#ck-ups into stepping stones for success.

Let’s take a deep dive into what NOT to do and see what we find under the stones.

1. The Group Dynamics Graveyard: Where engagement goes to die

  • Ignoring the Silent Voices. Prioritizing those who are always ready to speak over quieter participants creates an imbalance in group dynamics that is a killer for a flourishing session.
  • Forcing Early Participation. Pressuring introverts to engage from the start of a session with unnecessary ice-breakers or introductions can dampen enthusiasm in some and stall the outcome of the process. And you might not know why.
  • Guardians of Psychological Safety. Not taking care of the psychological safety of the group throughout the session can reduce overall creativity, engagement, and a healthy group-supporting spirit. Guarding psychological safety involves creating opportunities for a diverse band of people like introverts, extroverts, and new or young employees, as well as actively preventing gender or race biases from influencing interactions. And if you observe one participant demeaning another, you need as a facilitator to take a clear stance against it (there are eloquent and effective ways of doing that).

2. Structured Chaos: The illusion of order

  • Script Obsession. Maintaining a rigid grip on your pre-planned script, even when it’s clear a different approach is needed, shows a lack of flexibility and responsiveness to the group’s dynamics. You will successfully get through your script, but you will not earn success with the needs of the group.
  • PowerPoint Karaoke. Using your PowerPoint as a reading script might give you a sense of control and confidence, but it signals a lack of freedom, confidence, and knowledge of the subject and process at your side. This approach can undermine your credibility and make it difficult to be respected by participants. And to be honest a) it is dead boring listening to someone reading up with their back to the room, b) you don´t need that crutch, do you?, c) it´s ok if you speak without your slides, and stumble over a word. After all, you are a human, aren´t you? You making mistakes, tell everyone that they can also make mistakes. That is “show, don´t tell” at its very best.
  • Question Negligence. Postponing all questions to the end of a session to be effective and remain control of the situation, diminishes the chance for meaningful, real-time engagement. Giving opportunities for questions and inquiries is an on-the-route activity.

3. Time Tyrants: Masters of mismanagement

  • Speed Imbalance Syndrome. Poor pacing, usually going too slow during the first part of the session and then needing to rush through important subjects and decisions at the end leaves people feeling dissatisfied and thinking that critical issues were only dealt with superficially.
  • Breaktime Bandits. Choosing to skip breaks to cover more material is an absolute bummer on your side. It neglects participant comfort and will lead to decreased attention for many reasons. Don´t do it – CAPICE?
  • Monologue Monopolies. Allowing certain individuals to dominate the conversation without proper moderation detracts from the inclusive dialogue essential to solution-finding and group learning.
  • Transition Turbulence. Failing to plan for necessary mental transitions between topics in your plan or process script will overload most participants, leading to cognitive fatigue and people zoning out. We all do it – but packing the program too tight does not make anything more effective – quite the opposite.

4. Communication Catastrophes: Missteps in engagement and clarity

  • Ego Enthusiasm Eclipsed. As a consultant or facilitator you might have a blinding charisma, a high energy level, and a talent for persuading people, and sure, that can be useful at times. But at the end of the day: Being a facilitator is not about YOU, is it? Just a thought.
  • Silence Fillers. Filling every quiet moment with more talking from you or others, rather than inviting and encouraging reflection time, will stifle participation, meaningful engagement, and new ideas. Don’t be afraid of a few minutes of silence. Let that awkward moment cook everyone. Something important or unexpected might be about to happen.
  • Lingo Blunders. Not aligning with the audience’s specific terminology, such as misnaming “students” as “pupils,” signals a lack of preparation and often results in diminishing respect for you as a facilitator. It´s a communication bias we need to take dead seriously.
  • Humor Missteps. Inappropriate humor can overshadow the good work of a well-planned workshop and diminish respect for you as the facilitator. But what is inappropriate humor you ask? It is humor that is offensive, insensitive, or hurtful to others. It is your responsibility to have sensitivity and awareness of that. Inappropriate humor often involves topics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, or disabilities. Humor is great everywhere in meetings, workshops, and education. However, the focal point for you as a facilitator or leader is, what does the circumstance call for to fulfill the purpose of the session, with the people involved?

5. Engagement Endgames: Misguided methods and missing actions

  • The Icebreaker Illusion. Using icebreakers and energizers without having made clear to yourself how they connect to the session objectives unconsciously signals to your participants that you don’t know what you are doing. Some people will feel uncomfortable and pushed around doing exercises that they can’t register as connected to the purpose of the day. Remember also here that: Context is King.
  • Process Babbling. Overelaborating on the purpose of exercises restricts participants’ ability to respond freely, curbing spontaneity and creativity. Give clear instructions – absolutely, but leave people free to find their response and way in a process. And if they don’t do exactly what you told them? For heaven’s sake, man, they are grown-ups, give the brothers and sisters a little freedom to live.
  • The Mega Talker Dilemma. This is not a dilemma at all. It is crystal clear: Your function as a facilitator is to sometimes interrupt people who dominate or go off on irrelevant tangents. It´s your job to keep everyone focused on the target. Yes, sure, do it in a friendly, generous, and clear-cut way.
  • Contextual Void. Ensuring participants grasp the broader context of a meeting is crucial, otherwise, you will experience weak engagement and stifled innovation. As a facilitator, you must fill this “contextual void” by providing background information, clarifying objectives, and framing discussions.

Did you see any areas of possible growth and learning? I hope you did.

I recognize that it all might be a bit much to tackle. So, here is my advice: Start tackling one shadow f#ck-up at a time. Where to start? Simple: Start with something that gives you energy and something that doesn’t feel too difficult.


If you think that your organization could benefit from having better-facilitated meetings, or if you want to upgrade your competencies,

please reach out to us in FLOK for a talk. Or let´s connect on LinkedIn.

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