The art of great virtual facilitation

At Action Learning Associates, we have been facilitating virtually for more than five years. Action learning is a structured process that uses a small group setting to explore issues and challenges facing any member of the group and enables them to develop their own solutions and actions. The process requires careful, skilled facilitation to enable trust and open conversation.

Our clients range across the world and virtual action learning sets have proved to be a cost effective way of bringing together participants from different locations or countries. With so many of us now working remotely, virtual facilitation skills have become increasingly important.

Sharing knowledge

Initially, the Skype platform, and in the last five years Zoom, have provided us with a reliable setting for action learning. Therefore, the move to online working necessitated by the lockdown last March was a straightforward step for our team. We have begun to share the skills and techniques of virtual facilitation that we’ve developed and honed over many years and have recently worked with a number of organisations to support their teams in developing the additional skill set required for virtual facilitation.

As you know virtual meetings have many advantages including involving people from many locations, less travel, flexibility in terms of time of day and accessibility. However, they can also be tedious, drawn out, beset by connectivity issues and limited by a poor understanding of what enables engagement and involvement in the virtual space.

Many organisations have simply just moved everything online without paying any attention to the needs of participants, the structure of the material or the different behaviours required for effective online working.  The risk here is losing structure, attention and full engagement of participants. This in turn could lead to poor motivation, poor decision making and a deterioration in personal performance.

Making virtual sessions work

The feedback we’ve received over the years is that learners and set participants want sessions to be interactive, varied and well facilitated.  A virtual facilitator also needs to have a slightly stronger presence than in a face to face setting but must also be sure not to dominate.

For some facilitators the technology feels like a barrier so building their confidence and supporting them in developing an understanding of the benefits of the technology is key. Others are more confident about using the technology but see the screen as a barrier and really miss the engagement of face-to-face work. Still others are defeated by the thought of converting all their material to an online setting and are unsure of where or how to begin.

Learning how to enable engagement and involvement in a virtual space is important and understanding how to convert traditional courses to a virtual space requires careful planning and adaptation.  We have successfully developed a set of principles and guidelines to help skilled facilitators to work effectively in the virtual medium and are now sharing this material in virtual sessions ourselves. We have recently worked with the NHS Leadership Academy, supporting their in-house facilitators as they move to delivering courses and supporting groups in a virtual space.

Their feedback has been extremely positive, everyone has reported an increase in confidence when working virtually. Many have cited how engaged and involved they feel, and others have discovered a clear way forward in terms of thinking about how they present their own courses and facilitate their own sessions.

It gave me a better understanding of the difficulties we can face on online meetings/events/training. it gave me some tools to better engage with the participants.

The virtual delivery was excellent and demonstrated how such sessions can be run. Even the inevitable IT problems served as a useful learning tool!

It was helpful to realise that many of us in training are finding ourselves out of our comfort zone using virtual sessions. I definitely feel more confident to take on a new challenge and of course that will help my colleagues & company.

If you would like to attend an open course in How to Succeed at Virtual Facilitation, please follow this link for further details.

Alternatively, we also run in-house courses like the one we ran for the NHS Leadership Academy, tailored to your organisation. For more details, please email and we will get in touch to arrange an initial chat.


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