Work Relationships

12 July 2022

4 min.

3 aspects to consider for successful focus group facilitation

Have you ever facilitated a focus group? Depending on your experience, this question may make you smile or cringe. Whether you’re just starting out (you’ve been asked to facilitate a focus group and you’ve never done it before, help!) or you consider yourself an expert, it’s always a good idea to brush up on some basics to ensure success!

In this article, you will discover three aspects to take into consideration in order for the experience to be rewarding for all participants, but first, let’s take a moment to review…

What exactly is a focus group?

Unlike a work session, where the goal may be to reach consensus, formulate strategies or at least make the best possible decisions, the goal of a focus group is to get as many perspectives as possible on a given issue or situation.

This is what makes it an essential tool upstream of an organizational transformation, as well as a major asset when teams are faced with ongoing or future changes, which may or may not go well.

The facilitator’s role is key to the success of this type of meeting. It is the facilitator who sets the tone, structures the exchanges, and ensures that the participants are provided with the conditions that will allow the best points to emerge and, ultimately, better decisions to be made.

Let’s now discover the three dimensions to consider for successful and inspiring focus groups.

1st aspect: Time management

Good time management ensures that most of the meeting is spent discussing the issues at hand. That’s why everyone was brought together in the focus group, right?

To prevent lengthy preambles and a lack of time to summarize crucial points at the end of the focus group period (which can be demotivating when it seems that the viewpoints brought forward will be mere lip service), good time management is essential!

As a guideline, 15% of the meeting should be spent at the start — this is when goals and expectations are reiterated and group members can briefly introduce themselves — and 15% at the conclusion, when everyone can agree on the most important points that were discussed.

This means that 70% of the time (yes, really!) should be devoted to… discussion! This is the time when each person is called upon to share their point of view, ensuring that speaking time remains equitable, and when the heart of the matter is addressed.

2nd aspect: Climate management

In a meeting, the climate is transmitted by what is said, of course, but also by the non-verbal language of the group members. After all, communication is not just about words!

Obviously, you hope that everyone sticks to the conditions for success and the expected behaviours as established at the start of the meeting, but if you ever notice a slip, it is important to correct it! The same is true if the participants stray from the subject being discussed (which can become a source of irritation in itself).

In your role as facilitator, you have everything to gain by closely monitoring the evolution of the meeting’s climate, to ensure that you intervene in time, even if it means suggesting a short break if necessary.

3rd aspect: Content management

The beauty of a focus group? You can generate many different ideas and points of view. The challenge of a focus group? You can generate… many, many different ideas and points of view!

In fact, the key to leveraging them is to make sure you capture those ideas in a way that is most useful to everyone. This is where visual aids come in handy. Whether it’s large sticky notes around the room, a virtual whiteboard, or whatever works best for your group and organization, the idea is to make it easy to see what’s being said and to record the key elements of the discussions.

One promising idea is to divide the responsibility for note-taking among team members (not easy to facilitate and take notes at the same time), which not only increases the group’s engagement during the focus group, but also facilitates a common understanding by taking time to rephrase ideas.

Whether you facilitate it or not, how about paying special attention to each of these aspects in your next focus group?