Facilitation and Group Consensus Building

In this core facilitation skills workshop, participants master the techniques and skills necessary to professionally structure, facilitate, and build consensus during meetings, conferences, and multi-party decision-making groups. Effective group collaboration is a key 21st century skill set.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the decision-making process and group dynamics that influence it
  • Understand the role of the facilitator
  • Learn to prepare for and conduct a group meeting
  • Apply communication tools and skills to successfully facilitate the process
  • Understand the use of a solution seeking model in building consensus


Course Agenda

Day 1

Dynamics of Group Decision-Making
Facilitator Role and Tools
Solution-Seeking Model

  • Preparation
  • Understanding the issues

Day 2

Communication Skills for Facilitators
Solution-Seeking Model

  • Generating and Evaluating Options
  • Reaching agreement


About the Instructor
Tracey Cairnie, MS, PCC
Tracey Pilkerton Cairnie is a certified mediator/mentor, facilitator, coach, trainer, and public participation specialist. Tracey has over twenty years experience in developing and implementing a variety of communication and alternative dispute resolution programs, workshops and seminars. She provides services and training to a variety of government agencies (federal, state and local), businesses (profit and non-profit), universities, communities, families, and individuals.Tracey is also an adjunct-professor at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution teaching mediation, collaborative communication, and negotiation skills. She holds a MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and a BS in Public Administration from George Mason University. She is a graduate of the Georgetown University Executive Leadership Coaching Program.

Facilitating Success


How managers can help employees recognize and overcome conflict-based performance issues

When there is conflict amongst teams in the workplace, performance suffers.  Managers can be the first-responders during these times and work with employees as facilitators in order to identify and work through the conflict at hand.

Poorly managed conflict can be expensive for employers.  CareerBuilder reports that the average HR manager incurs more than $800,000 per year in costs from extended vacancies – these vacancies are often the result of unresolved office conflict. 45% of companies surveyed also say that extended openings hurt productivity.

Being a great facilitator takes practice.  Managers can use the following guide to build their approach, skills and confidence to successfully address conflict in the workplace

Be Clear About the Purpose of the Dialogue



Everyone in the room should clearly understand why they are there and be on the same page.  Having a whiteboard or large paper ready to record and keep track of developing ideas as a visual aid is a classic way to keep a conversation involving people in conflict on track.



Establish Ground Rules



Visual tools are also a great way to foster dialogue.  It is important for managers to recognize the difference between dialogue and debate when facilitating meetings. Active listening and being respectful are key behaviors to a successful conversation.  Asking everyone in the room to set a few ground rules and writing them up on your visual aid is a way to gently remind the people in conflict to be civil and make all of the participants feel valued from the start.  As a facilitator it will be your job to enforce these rules in a firm, but respectful manner.


Manage the Agenda 



In business, it is understood that time is money and no one wants to be stuck in an unending conversation that goes nowhere, or wanders off track. The role of a facilitator is to manage the agenda once it is set.  Some facilitators find it helpful to map the conversation visually.  Here are the some practices for recording and displaying information in a dispute resolution setting:

  • Capture key words and use their words, not yours;
  • Write big enough for everyone to read;
  • Do not write in bright colors (but highlighting can be helpful for emphasis);
  • Check the accuracy of your recording by inviting participants to give input; and be sure that everyone can see while you are writing;
  • Number items for later reference; and
  • Use a consistent format and leave wide margins for notes.


Stay Impartial



It is imperative that the manager facilitating the conversation between employees in conflict appears to be (and is) impartial.  Managers who share their experiences and beliefs about the topic at hand run the risk of losing the trust of the people involved in conversation. Instead, find ways, like asking open ended questions, to convey that you are interested in understanding THEIR experiences and ideas.  A group meeting or facilitation typically is not an appropriate place to discipline employees or discuss individual performance.


Close With a Summary



Whether the meeting has come to an end organically, or time has simply run out, do not forget to end with a summary of the conversation.  This is the perfect opportunity to talk about the next steps towards the resolution of the conflict at hand. 

Implemented well, these guidelines will help managers to prevent and address common conflicts.  When deeper issues affect performance, some find themselves lacking the time, positioning or experience to effectively resolve the issues standing in the way of better performance and satisfied employee engagement. It can be frustrating to see colleagues fight or avoid communicating over what may appear to be small issues, especially when that conflict is negatively impacting their ability to do their job and produce the great results you that you know your team is capable of.

Fortunately, there are professionals that can help.

NVMS_Logo with Tag Line .png

NVMS is a regional expert in dispute resolution and training in conflict management. Since 1990, NVMS has mediated over 14,000 disputes and trained more than 15,000 in the effective resolution of disputes in government agencies, businesses, courts, and community settings.  Certified mediators and experienced practitioners provide a range of services including facilitation, mediation, coaching, and training.  NVMS is a mission-driven 501(c)3 nonprofit organization affiliated with George Mason University.  For more information, visit www.nvms.us or call (703)865-7272.


Talent Development Magazine, Issue: June 2017 .  “Growing Skills Gap May Increase Demand for Training.” pg. 17.

David Sibbet. “Visual Meetings – How graphic sticky notes and idea mapping can transform group productivity.”  pg. 61 The Grove Consultants International, 2010

Lisa Schirch, Davic Campt. The Little Book of Dialogue for Difficult Subjects: A Practical, Hands-On Guide “ Little books of justice & peacebuilding” Skyhorse Publishing Inc, 2015


The NVMS Office will be closed between 4pm Friday, June 30 and 9am Wednesday, July 5 in observance of Independence Day.

Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

The NVMS Team

How to Apply Nonverbal Techniques in Mediation: Clearing Hurdles

The information and techniques in this article are from Barbara Madonik’s book, “I hear what you say, but what are you telling me?” (pg. 64-69) Wiley, Oct. 6, 2001.

Knowing how to circumvent obstacles to the mediation process is one of the secrets to a great mediators’ success. Often, parties involved in conflict have habitual response patterns which they bring with them to mediation.  The following techniques are tools that can be used to move the conversation forward and overcome barriers resulting from past miscommunication:

As if

This technique requires a little imagination, but can yield amazing results.  Mediators who use this technique will ask parties who believe that they are faced with insurmountable barriers to imagine a world in which those barriers were overcome and then to describe it in detail.  Sometimes, this reveals a path forward which was previously invisible to participants.


Backing is a technique which Madonik herself invented.  Participants should be asked to visualize their problem as a physical object sitting in front of them. Then, they should be directed to take the problem in their hand and drop it over their shoulder. This technique is helpful for parties who are laser focused on one specific issue to move past that issue by breaking their focus.

Crumpled Paper

This technique is helpful both in private caucus and also with all of the parties in conflict present. Most commonly, it is used to deal with issues that have nothing to do with the mediation at hand, but are impeding its process. The mediator using this technique should give participants their own piece of paper and ask them to write all of their troublesome issues on it. Then, the parties should crumple up the papers and throw them away.  This is a very simple, yet transformative way to signal that it is time to focus on the task at hand.

Hanging Balloons

My favorite technique of Madonik’s is called Hanging Balloons. This is best used when parties involved in a mediation raise issues that are relevant to the process, but it would be counterproductive to discuss them at the moment they are mentioned. A skilled mediator using this technique will first thank the party that brought up the issue.  This step should not be skipped because it helps parties feel acknowledged and not like they are being passed over in favor of the other participant(s). Then the mediator will ask the party who brought up the issue if it, “would be acceptable to that party to hang the issue up.”  At this point, mediators should feel free to make an upwards gesture representing that the issue is still there, but will come down at a more appropriate time.  Some mediators will write these issues down to be sure that they are addressed before the end of the mediation.

It is important to remember as a third party assisting in the conflict resolution process that solutions can be hidden right behind a stubborn issue.  Having tools such as Backing, Crumpled Paper, and Hanging Balloons at your disposal can help you have more productive mediations.

In the comments section below, tell us how you have used any of these techniques successfully in the past, or how you plan to implement them in the future. 

Upcoming Panel Discussion: Talk It Out -Resolving Conflicts in the Family, in the Community, and in the Workplace

Conflict is a part of life and it affects all of us. It can include disputes between family members, neighbors, a co-worker or a boss, or the school principal.   It can also include disputes between a landlord and a tenant, a customer and a business, a boss and an employee, principals and teachers versus parents and students, parties to a formal contract, and even issues like responsibility for a pet’s actions.

Come hear about various mediation options from a panel of experienced conflict resolution experts to resolve these disputes. Join us from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, at the Burke Branch Library, 4701 Seminary Rd., Alexandria (right off #395 exit at Seminary East).  The program is co-sponsored by the Alexandria Library and the Northern Virginia Media Service (NVMS), Fairfax, VA.

There is no charge for the program and light refreshments will be served.

Learn how mediation can work for you. And if you can’t resolve these conflicts, the panelists will help you to understand the process for taking your dispute to the Small Claims Courts—in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax.  What you don’t know can hurt you, regarding finances, property, employment, relationships and your credit report.

Free parking is available on site.  For any questions on the program, contact Izabela Solosi, NVMS Training Program Manager, at training@nvms.us or at 703-865-7261.