Facilitation Guide

Any questions? Additional ideas to include in this guide? Things that could be simpler? Other feedback? Please send them to [email protected].

Printable Zine Version

We’ve all been in meetings where people are talking over each other, discussion jumps from topic to topic and back without resolution, everyone is confused, tensions are high, nothing is decided, you end way over time, and everyone leaves frustrated. But meetings don’t have to be this way. Effective facilitation can make meetings more pleasant, organized, clear, supportive, inclusive, and egalitarian. This guide is meant to help more people feel empowered to facilitate (both inside and outside of NAC) so that roles can be more equally distributed and meetings can run smoothly in every organization.

A facilitator’s overall role is to ensure that everyone is heard and that good process is used to reach common goals.

Facilitation Principles

Here are a few core facilitation principles. Someone who mastered just these would be an excellent facilitator. The rest of this guide provides examples and specifics.

  • Clarity – Make everything as clear and as simple as possible so it’s easier for people to participate.
  • Focus on the group – Pay attention to the group. What does the group need?
  • Steward the process – You focus on the process so others can focus on the content.

Facilitation Roles

A facilitator wears many hats as a result of being a steward of the process.

  • Keep the meeting on track – Keeps discussion to one topic at a time and finish each topic before moving on to the next one.
  • Stack – Tracks who wants to talk and whose turn it is to talk. (More below)
  • The big picture – Makes the purposes of the meeting and topics clear to all.
  • Vibeswatch – Maintains awareness of participants’ levels of emotional, mental, and physical needs throughout the meeting/conversation.
  • Timekeeper – Keeps track of time and what’s left on the agenda. Reminds people of the time so they can decide what’s important to prioritize.
  • Decisions – Checks for consensus and temperature checks for decisions as needed. Follows the decision making / consensus process the group has agreed to. (More below)
  • Conflict Resolution – Evaluates how to handle conflict if it arises. (More below)

Facilitation Tips

There are a lot of tips here, but remember the key is to just on the group. What does the group need? These are just some ways to respond to what the group needs.

  • Explain everything – You’re the narrator of the meeting. What can be obvious to you can be confusing to someone else so explain what’s happening in the meeting (especially if there are new people present). This includes explaining what you’re doing as a facilitator.
  • Pay attention – People are relying on you to support them (to speak, to address a problem, etc). Look for hand signals, people with confused expressions, people who clearly want to say something but aren’t, etc. If you’re distracted, everyone is distracted. Listen.
  • Read the room – What are the group dynamics? What does the group need? Do they need something explained/clarified? Do they need a break? Do they need a clearer proposal or simpler question? Do they need to focus? Is there tension that needs to be addressed? Do they need to move faster/slower? Do they need to explore this fun tangent for a moment?
  • Summarize – Listen to what people are saying. When there is a lull or confusion step in to summarize what you’ve heard. This can clarify where people agree and disagree and make the rest of the discussion easier.
  • Ask permission – Everything you do is with the consent of the group. Ask permission frequently to remind everyone that they are in control. “Shall we move on to the next topic?” “How about we focus on this question first?”
  • Help each person feel heard – Use paraphrasing, scribing (writing stuff up front where everyone can see it), summarizing, and other methods to reflect back what people are saying.
  • Be impartial – Ideally a facilitator should be completely impartial and just serve to facilitate the group, though that is not always practical. If you must give content (opinions, solutions, answers to questions, how you feel about a proposal, input), label it as clearly separate from your facilitation role, verbally place yourself last on stack, and be brief. If you realize your feelings on an issue cloud your ability to continue facilitating, you may pass on the duties to someone else (let the group know that this is what you’re doing).
  • Always use an agenda – If there isn’t an agenda then make a quick one. Always have an agenda so it’s clear what you’re talking about and what’s next.
  • One discussion at a time – Keep to one topic at a time and finish it before moving on. Break up complicated discussion into multiple smaller ones if needed.
  • Frequent temperature checks – Frequent, quick temperature checks for big and small decisions ensure that everyone is on the same page and welcomes even slight hesitations that can end up being valuable concerns.
  • Be open about your needs – You’re a person with needs too. Don’t hesitate to say if you need a short break or if you need someone to take over facilitating (for whatever reason).
  • Ask for feedback – We’re always learning and growing. Asking for honest feedback at the end of the meeting is the best way to improve.

Consent Based Decision Making

At its most basic, consent is the general agreement within a group. Consent based decision making is also known as Sociocracy. Consent Basics:

Consent – Consent governs decision-making. Consent means there areno argued and paramount objections to a proposed policy decision.

Circles – circles are semi-autonomous, self-organizing units with their own domain and aim and their own action, development and feedback processes.

Double Linking – between circles - enables information (feedback) to travel up, down and across an organization

Selections – Circles elect people to functions, tasks and roles by consent and with transparency

1. Rounds

Rounds are the most contagious tools of sociocracy. The basic idea is ridiculously simple: everyone gets a turn to speak, one by one. Yes, that’s it. (I promised easy, right?)


How to

The easiest way is to do rounds is to sit in a circle and follow a natural order by where people sit. When I see that the person next to me is speaking, I know I will have my turn next. That also helps people to mentally prepare for their turn. In online-meetings, we encourage facilitators to call on two people at a time so the second one can get ready. (Which also means they will have their contribution somewhat pre-sorted!)

Obviously, it helps to have a facilitator to do rounds. We also do not recommend doing rounds in a group bigger than 8 or 9 people. (If your group is larger, continue reading to tool #3.)


Rounds have benefits for both sides, speakers and listeners. Let’s look at the speaker first. What is inherent in rounds is that everyone’s voice matters. Equally. What I say matters as much as what my co-worker says. And what my co-worker says matters as much as what I say. One might have more insight on a given topic than the other but good thoughts sometimes come from unexpected places.


Rounds change the rules of the game so it doesn’t become a game of convincing each other. Instead, it becomes a game of sharing your thoughts and co-creation. It sometimes feels like we’re all giving our offering and put it in the middle of the circle where it can grow into something bigger and better than I could have come up with. When I am speaking I know I am protected from people wanting to prove me wrong. Rounds carve out a safe space to share.

What are rounds like for listeners? One benefit for listeners is that when I know it is not my turn and I know it will take another two or three turns until I can speak, I start to relax. I sit back and listen because there is nothing else to do. I can focus on the speaker, trying to understand what the issue on the table looks like from their view.

Rounds make it manifest that our views might be different. Beyond finding the absolute truth or pushing my own agenda, we honor the variety of experiences. All of a sudden there is space. And once there is space, solutions are more likely to emerge.

Typical reservations

Are rounds artificial? Maybe. After seeing how easily my children picked up rounds, I have given up on finding out what is artificial or natural. I find something else more important. Talking without order means you will be in “natural” flow of conversation. In Sociocracy For All, we call this debate style. Debate style: you say something and I will try and prove you wrong because my idea is better. Debate style brings along all the implicit and mostly unquestioned power dynamics, men speaking more often than women and so on. That means that deciding to not use rounds means making a choice, and it is a choice that has known, measuable disadvantages.

Are rounds hard? Yes and no. In the beginning, rounds are hard for some people. Yes, changing your patterns is hard. But they are not complicated. Whenever I attend a (non-sociocratic) meeting where people talk over each other, I silently enjoy noticing how startled I am when I witness that.


Of course I myself am ego-driven and I have a ton of good ideas! But I also know that it only takes one person in the circle engaging in cross-talk and the good effects of rounds are lost. What do I do with all my brilliant ideas? I write them on a piece of paper. When it is my turn, I will often look at my piece of paper and realize that, after a few minutes of listening to others, about 90% of my ideas have either been named or, on second thought, they don’t seem all that great or urgent anymore. Humbled, I am often grateful for having been forced to weed through what I say. And when people pass on their turn saying “All I wanted to say has been said” I feel the urge to get up and hug them in gratitude for not putting the group through endless repetitions. Which also answers the last reservation I hear very often: aren’t rounds lengthty? Maybe. But inconsiderate decisions, repetitive statements and emotional “clean-up” after disregard of team members take a lot of time too. Your choice!

How to start

Next time you find yourself in a debate style discussion, try one of these two sentences:

“I would really be interested to hear what everyone in the room thinks about this. Can we do a go-around and everyone shares, and we try to give not to interrupt each other?”

“I notice how I want to say something but I don’t want to over-talk anyone else. Could we slow this down and talk one by one in a round so we all get to speak without having to compete?

2. Small group decisions

More a principle than a tool, sociocracy, like all frameworks building on distributed power, pushes authority to the teams on the “lowest” or most specific level. Those small teams will be the people who do operational work in that domain and have a defined area of responsibility and authority to govern their own team’s work, a key ingredient of self-management. As often as you can, let the people decide who are going to end up doing the work. There is much more to say about organizational structure but I promised easy, accessible tools, so let’s keep it simple.


A common reaction here is “but if we are all equals, shouldn’t we all decide together?” Although this sounds so intriguingly logical, it simply doesn’t carry over into reality. It is not how people are wired. In a large group, individuals will dominate the discussion or struggle to make themselves heard. Or they will disengage and give up on getting heard. Is that what we have in mind when we all want to be equals? Not really.

Deliberation in a small group makes it easier to listen to each other and to engage with each other. But then — how can we trust that those few people will make a decision that works for everyone who is affected by the decision? In short, how can we make sure everyone is heard and still have the benefits of an engaged discussion (ideally, in rounds)?


How to

A helpful solution is baked into sociocracy. It is not a compromise between small groups and an all-inclusive approach. It is truly a both-and: we include everyone by hearing their input. The input is taken into the team where they can engage with the input and come to a decision. A group can go through multiple iterations of feedback. Decreasing the number of decision-makers while increasing the number of input-givers is the best of both worlds.


With more input and more deliberation, your organization’s decisions will get better. Oftentimes, decisions also get faster.

There is a side-effect of small group mandate that is big for me. I can relax. I don’t have to take care of everything. Not everything requires my opinion. We all have to make so many decisions every day that many of us are grateful not having to make one. Similar to rounds, small group mandate protects us from being too attached to our own opinions.

Typical reservations

We have seen implementations where a team rushed to make a decision which they knew was controversial as soon as sociocracy was implemented. Finally they were in charge and could just do as they pleased. Response by those affected? Big outrage. What had gone wrong? Decrease the number of decision-makers and increase the level of feedback. The interesting things is, you will get the feedback. Before making a decision, the feedback can be called input. After some decisions, the word to describe feedback may be outrage!

Trust in a small group of decision-makers has to be earned and maintained. No decision should be surprising. If a decision triggers strong reactions, the team did not do their homework. In the dance of feedback and decision-making, governance turns into a quiet, well-oiled machine.

How to start

Next time you sit in a meeting with more than 8 people, identify one agenda item that could be dealt with by a group of 4. Suggest a way to form the group members, decide how they are going to get input (and from whom) and suggest a schedule of presenting ideas — getting feedback — announcing decision that feels safe to your group. If you want an even better result, make sure the group is also clear on which channels they want feedback.

If your organization truly does not allow for smaller groups to make decisions, here is a compromise (and this is merely a compromise, not a both-and solution). Ask for a group to work out a proposal (using the same cycles of feedback etc) and to bring it to the large group for a decision. If this goes well a few times (especially with consent as a decision-making method!), you might be able to train your organization to trust small groups. Then you can hand over decision-making power to small groups more and more.

Here are some magic phrases to begin right at your next meeting:

It does not seem a good use of our time to work on the wording for this in a large group. Can 4 of us take this on and bring it back?

I trust that the three people who are actually running the ____ can make a decision here. Let’s do one more go-around where everyone gives them some input on this particular issue, and then we can let them run with it.

3. Consent

Oftentimes, organizations do not have a defined agreed-upon decision-making method, especially start-ups or young organizations in general. Groups often switch back and forth between consensus (=we all agree), autocratic elements (=the most dominant decide and the others don’t speak up) and majority vote (=the needs of the minority can be disregarded) without any clarity or intentionality on how they make their decisions. Again, absence of intentionality often leads to reinforcing underlying power structures. The nay-sayer in the consensus-run group has too much power (tyranny of the minority!), and voting lets the power tip towards the 51% (tyranny of the majority!), and the more dominant people will get their way.

In those systems, everyone loses. A consensus-run group will wear out as people will lose their drive to bring another idea forward just so it can be shot down. Majority vote can very easily miss out on great ideas from the minority and disengage up 49% of the people, and even more opportunity is missed in systems of hidden dominance and blunt autocracy.

How to

How can we make a decision so that everyone can have a say without the disadvantages of consensus decision-making? The solution from sociocracy is consent decision-making.


Consent is defined by “no objection”. Not having an objection is slightly different from agreeing. We refer to that extra space as the range of tolerance. We don’t have to find the overlap of our preferences in order to make a decision. Instead, we seek the overlap of our ranges of tolerances which gives us much more to work with. (Side note: some use consensus like consent. In that case there is no issue as long as that is done by everyone consistently.)


The benefits of consent decision-making are:

  • Everyone’s needs will be considered. That does not mean everyone gets what they want but every objection can be heard and addressed.
  • More buy-in. No one leaves the room feeling disengaged.
  • No toxic behavior after. Consent is an active process. There is no “standing aside”, and no one can abstain. Everyone with consent rights has to consent — which also means everyone in the room is equally responsible. There is no “well I told you” after things go wrong!
  • It saves time. We do not have to argue about everything until we agree or one gives up. If there is no objection, we consent, and if there is an objection, we deal. We always push for consent fairly early. Then we hear what the objections are which tells us where to best put our discussion time.
  • Objections give us more information. Someone who votes “no” might never tell us what their concern was. In consent, we harvest more information which can only be better for everyone.


Typical reservations

I have not been talking about objections a lot. (Objections are like tensions in Holacracy.) People are sometimes concerned and don’t trust that there is a way to address an objection. Too many of us have experienced what it is like when your concern is brushed off by the group. But this does not have to be the case. If a group gets used to consent decision-making, they build trust that their concerns will be considered. The healing effect of that can be felt, and the group relaxes. That leads to an upward spiral. As we get more relaxed, there is more space for listening and finding solutions, building even more trust.

The definition for an objection is “carrying out this policy will interfere with the aim of the organization or team”. This simply means that you object when you see that a proposal or guideline will keep you from doing your work effectively.

Is a concern different from an objection? In this brief article, I have been using both interchangeably. Why? For me, there are exactly two outcomes from any concern/objection/tension or whatever. 1. You address it. 2. You don’t. I do not see any reason to make it more complicated. I have a hard time with any framework that involves judgment on whether an objection is “valid”. Because that shifts power to the people who decide which objections are valid (or to the people who implement the rules that guide what is valid). I don’t want to be equals under a set of rules made by someone else. I want to make the rules together. In sociocracy, any (governance and other) policy and any objection belongs to the group, and the group decides what to do with it.

How to start

It might be a good idea to intentionally implement consent as your decision-making method. It might work best if you just formulate it in plain language: “From now on, a decision is made when no one in the group objects.”

Consent and dealing with objections is an art and a science but that’s for another time. For now, I want to give you two magic phrases that prime your team for consent as a decision-making method.

I don’t think we can all get what we’d prefer here because there are just too many different needs on the table. How about we shoot for a decision that everyone in the room can work with instead of trying to make it perfect? Then we could try it out and see how it plays out.

I want to be sure that no one in the room walks away with a decision that is going to keep them from doing good work. Let’s talk until we have a decision that is good enough for everyone.



What to expect down the road

You might run into issues using rounds, small group mandate or consent. We have seen organizations implement sociocracy, incrementally or half-heartedly and run into issues. Self-management isn’t easy or without bumps in the road. When things are not going as smoothly as you were hoping, that’s just feedback. No reason to panic or to throw in the towel. (Peek into this article to read about the most typical struggles and how to fix them.)

Sociocracy gives you the option of starting small. But the more features you “unlock”, the more benefit you will get. As you might have noticed, the three tools named here support each other: (1) Consent is easier to do with small group mandate and rounds. (2) Rounds are more doable in small groups and more focused and targeted with consent decision-making. (3) Small group mandate can be boosted by consent decision-making and rounds. And you don’t even have to stop there. Add sociocratic elections, roles, term ends and evaluation, feedback loops, the art of dealing with objections, role improvement, meeting format, collaborative ways of generating proposals, and most of all honest and constructive feedback, and your self-governance will be smooth, gentle and quiet.



How a Sociocratic Meeting Flows:

Before and After the Meeting

  • Setting the Agenda

  • Circles Set Roles

    • Secretary: administration and note-taking for the group, tracks dates, decisions, and key information

    • Motivator: looking into the future and keeping the larger timeline in perspective, keeps the circle moving forward, on-track

    • Facilitator: helps facilitates meetings if no one else can, gathers and prioritizes agenda items, make sure all information that is needed is available, and generally sets the stage for success.

    • To read more about roles, click here

During the Meeting

Every sociocratic  meeting follows the same pattern. Keeping to the pattern will help you cover everything that needs to be covered while ensuring an equal voice in all your circle’s decisions

  • Opening Round - The Check-In (2-5 minutes)

    • Style: Round

      • Definition: to go around the room and have each person share, one at a time.

      • If someone doesn't want to share, they can "pass". If they want to go at the end, they can say "skip"

    • Intent: to check-in with each other as people first. It is an opportunity to learn about each other. Check-ins are not commented upon in the meeting.

      • Possible Prompts:

        • What can you tell us about (themselves in general or just the past weekend)?

        • How did you get interested in cohousing/the circle topic/ etc?

        • Is there anything you want to tell us about?

  • Administrative (5-10 minutes)

    • Announcements

      • Style: Popcorn

        • Definition: anyone who feels moved to speak can do so, provided that we speak one at a time

      • Intent: to share news and group related announcements. This includes special meetings, decisions, events, celebrations of successes or requests that can be shared in this part of the meeting.

    • Confirm Next Meeting Details and Roles

      • Style: Round for Approval of Information

      • Intent: to make sure that the next meeting time, date, location, agenda writer, note-taker, scribe, facilitator, and time-keeper. These details must be worked out early so that they are not forgotten and should be included in the notes.

    • Consent to Agenda

      • Style: Round

      • Intent: To consent to what is to be discussed. We consent to the agenda because there is power in deciding what makes it on the agenda and what does not.

        • Helps to tackle tricky subjects

        • Allows for collaborative prioritization

        • Gets everyone on the same page

  • Circle Check-In (2-5 minutes each, if applicable)

    • Style: Popcorn

    • Intent: designated members of other circles have a chance to share and briefly de-brief the circle that is presently meeting. They can share relevant information such as events, decisions, and goals, as well as field questions directed to the circle they represent.

    • This is a time to put individual circle decisions and recommendations up to the circle that is meeting. For example, the design group may make an aesthetic decision about the building and want to present that choice to the community for their information and consent. If any community member feels strongly about it, they have an opportunity to speak their minds. If the decision merits further discussion, it can be added to an applicable meeting agenda.

    •  This is not a time for a lengthy debriefing. If that is required, it should be made an agenda item and would fall under the meeting’s content.

  • Content (40-70+ minutes)

    • In this section you will discuss all of the decisions that your group needs to make. What sort of acitons you will take and who will do what. Make sure to follow the rounds format. Individuals make make "proposals" then follow that with other rounds where other people have an opportunity to consent to the proposal or raise any major objections. .

  • Meeting Evaluation (5-10 minutes)

    • Check-Out

      • Style: Round

      • Intent: to briefly evaluate the meeting

        • Possible Prompts:

          • What worked well for the group in the meeting?

          • What could be improved for future meetings?

          • Did the facilitation style work for us?

          • Did the way the meeting went match the style and nature of our group?

          • Do you feel connected to your group? What, specifically, worked well for you?

Handling Disagreements and Conflict

Conflict is natural in any group. A facilitator can help conflict be healthy and lead to stronger connections and decisions.

Preventing conflict:

Many conflicts can be avoided by proper facilitation of tough discussions.

  • Encouraging a healthy culture where participants are actively listening in an attempt to understand each other before jumping to conclusions or judgment.
  • Clarifying or summarizing people’s positions so that it is not misinterpreted by another member can be helpful (especially in tense or tough discussions).

Once a disagreement has arisen:

  • A facilitator should use their judgment to determine the level of intervention (if any). This intervention should vary depending on the severity and atmosphere of the conflict as well as the overall group norms for conflict resolution.
  • Remind the group that disagreement is natural and that this is all part of the process. Everyone present wants the group to be successful and you will eventually reach a decision that everyone is happy with.
  • Mention areas of common ground and clearly state where the areas of disagreement are so participants are clear about what is being discussed.
  • If disagreement seems to be based on personal preferences, try inviting people to look to the group mission or principles to see what to align to.
  • Try to find the fear(s) or worry underneath the disagreement and address that.
  • If things continue to escalate, simply naming that conflict or tension has arisen can do a lot to de-escalate things. It allows a space for participants to step back and observe. Offer to take a short break.
  • If it gets personal insist on at least a short break.
  • Time is the facilitators ally. If you feel that a conversation or decision is not going to be resolved you can suggest to defer the conversation or decision to a later time. This will give the team members a chance to cool off and think about the topic in more depth. You can also use the break time to communicate with the people in conflict individually in order to better understand their position and make the individuals feel heard and considered.
  • Finally you can suggest participants utilize the group’s conflict resolution process to resolve the issue. (NAC’s conflict resolution process: https://neighborhoodanarchists.org/structure/#conflict)

This is a lot of stuff but it all comes easier with practice. Remember that the group wants you to succeed. Don’t be afraid to get out there and try facilitating!

NAC Specific

Here’s suggested language for how to facilitate a NAC Gathering:

  • Stolen land, stolen lives – “At each gathering we acknowledge that we live in a society that is founded on stolen land and stolen lives. Someone does some presents something on a topic and we reflect.”