7 Tips for Facilitating Senior Groups

It was just a perfect morning to start a new workshop – in the beautiful city of Vizag. The stage was set and all regular preparations for conducting the workshop were done. We had an hour in hand, before kicking off a Leadership workshop for a group of 24 participants from a local mining organisation.

Over the last few years, we have earned the experience of conducting many such workshops for senior management teams. Yet, there was something different this time. The average age of the team we were going to address was 53 – by far the most senior group by age, which we had ever handled. How was our approach going to be different? How do we add value to a group, where a few of them had more experience than our age?

senior couple drawing

At the end of that wonderful day, we were left enriched by the experience. Below are a few lessons we took home from there:

  1.  Don’t Preach
    While we are naturally biased towards a facilitative style of conducting workshops, we needed to remind ourselves that each of the participants carried a wealth of experience. The challenge was to be able to tap into this treasure trove of experience in such a way that people felt easy opening up and sharing. Clearly, the facilitation had to be non-intrusive and non- threatening – and not perceived as providing “Gyan”.
  2. Watch you pace
    We as Indians tend to speak English at a very fast rate. Especially with a older group though, a Facilitator needs to be very conscious about this. People with a lot of experience, naturally tend to validate everything that they hear with their prior experiences. Hence, too fast and you lose engagement – on the other hand, go at the right pace and you see a tremendous amount of richness in the conversations that then follow.
  3. Don’t be rigid
    A key decision for a Facilitator is the amount of control he exercises with the group. Younger groups need to generally be controlled in a tighter fashion when it comes to time schedules & conversations. However with an older group, the same level of control could easily get perceived as policing. Due to the rich conversations, sessions sometimes could easily exceed planned timelines. As long as those conversations are adding value to the group, the Facilitator should consciously not implement rigid timelines.
  4. Listen more and be curious
    Active listening is an indispensable ingredient of good facilitation. In this scenario, it becomes more so. People like to be heard, especially if they have years of experience to share. A Facilitator who displays the curiosity to probe just a little more below the surface of conversations, often returns with rich dividends.
  5. Use more stories
    We all love to hear stories and this love does not diminish with age. Especially while working with older groups, stories are a very good prop to get a message across in the most non-threatening manner. Stories work particularly well during debriefs of sessions. Stories, when well told, also hand the speaker complete attention in the room.
  6. Balance between Intensity and Energy
    A key decision that every Facilitator needs to make in every workshop is the right mix of energy (that comes from physical activities) and intensity (that comes from engaging conversations). For a younger group the balance is tilted more towards energy. For an older group, this balance clearly needs to be tilted more towards intensity. This helps tap the experience through the conversations, while keeping the workshop at a physically optimum level.
  7. Have FUN unapologetically!!
    FUN & humour works almost universally in all kinds of interventions – which is one of the reasons, it’s a core value for us at Focus!  At times though, the bias that a Facilitator himself carries in his mind – that older people may not enjoy it as much, hold him back. Big mistake. We as humans, never grow tired of fun, humour and laughter. The team we worked with simply loved to have fun, crack jokes, and pass the odd “creative” comment!
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So there it is – our distilled knowledge of what works for older groups. If you read this post closely and think about it again, the key points are not much different for younger groups – are they?

What does that tell you? Do share your thoughts!

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