Promoting open communication and collaboration – all in a day’s work for a facilitator

In her latest Sidekick PR blog, Charlotte Dimond reflects on a recent project, facilitating a client's away day and encouraging open communication and collaboration throughout.

We were recently asked to facilitate a senior leadership away day for one of our longstanding clients. The team of 15 were taking themselves away from the business, to work on the business (music to our ears!) and they wanted a neutral party to help to manage the group discussions, ensure that all participants were heard and encourage open communication and collaboration.

Having worked with the team for over a decade I knew many of the participants but due to some more recent hires, there were a few people that I didn’t know as well, so I wasn’t sure what their communication style would be and how they would interact – this is always a great challenge.

Getting things started

I’m not a massive fan of icebreakers for teams who know each other well and work closely together (secretly I’m not a big fan of icebreakers full stop but each to their own) – so we didn’t go down the often awkward tell someone three facts about yourself, two true and one lie, scenario – we just got into it. People were reminded of the outline of the day and importantly the goals and outcomes that had been set.

Guiding and managing group discussions

Three tables were set out with a ‘table host’ on each who would be getting discussions going about a given topic. Our role was to listen in and when we felt it was necessary ask a question, to get an opinion from anyone we felt hadn’t had the chance to speak much. It was also a chance to put forward a few different view points for people to consider. Importantly it was a great way to see how the teams interacted and bounced ideas off each other.

Fostering collaboration

With the approach that all views were welcomed and everyone’s opinion counted at the forefront of the day we set up lots of sticky whiteboard sheets (these have become my second favourite stationery item) for ideas, thoughts and discussions that needed to be picked up outside of the session – they quickly got filled up – but their mere presence meant that we could get the team to focus on the task at hand and not get sidetracked!

Timings and energy

This bit is never easy, keeping things to time, stopping conversations when they are getting into the core of the subject (should you or do you let them run?), keeping the energy in the room (a full day can either seem like an eternity or can fly by depending on the energy). Timers were set, sessions were structured and on the whole they were kept to, flexibility is key in these situations and knowing when some conversations are fine to end or when to give others just another five minutes can make a real difference.

Feedback and outcomes

It was great at the end of the day to see our names on the plans for a facilitated aways day for the next layer down in their management team – ‘well you’d have to do it’, was the sentiment and lovely comments from team members who said that they’ve really valued us being there as external support. Importantly, the outcomes from the session were that the goals were met, new business plans for the next three years would be developed and team had a much better understanding of the impact their decision have on each other.


Note to oneself, always remember that in these kind of sessions being yourself, being human, leaving the corporate out of the room makes a huge difference.


Photo by FORTYTWO on Unsplash