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  • Darren Long

Facilitation the Way an Experienced Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Does it

Person in martial arts attire pulling on his black belt

99.9% of Lean and Six Sigma techniques involve cross-functional teams where strong facilitation skills are critical to engaging all participants and getting maximum value from the event. Whether it is a Kaizen/Rapid Improvement Event (RIE), brainstorming event, or another similar event, the facilitator's role is to ensure that the event delivers maximum value by ensuring these items are consistently applied or highly considered before and during the event.

The Lean Six Sigma facilitator role requires the following:

  • Prepare for the event

  • Get the right people involved

  • Set and communicate clear objectives, goals, and scope

  • Maintain a professional approach and leading by example

  • Keep things focused, spirited & engaged

  • Establish ground rules and ensuring they are respected

  • Ensure participants feel able to engage with the process

  • Manage the physical environment, including heat/cold/noise/visual/safety

  • Keep track of time…breaks, meals, and emergencies all cause disruption

  • Manage the group dynamics (Group Think, see below)

  • Encourage creativity

  • Manage the process (are the activities focused on the goals)

  • Delegate where appropriate to ensure the group can stay focused

  • Have backup plans in place to cope with the unexpected

  • Steer the group towards decisions that have consensus

  • Recognize group members in need of training or skill development

  • Offer feedback on the effectiveness of the group

  • Summarize the group's key points

  • Facilitate balanced participation among group members to ensure diverse input

  • Assist in acquiring necessary resources for the team

  • Provide an unbiased external perspective

  • Clarify different perspectives on issues

  • Maintain the team's focus on the process

  • Address and resole interpersonal conflicts that may arise

  • Watch eye contact

  • Assess the change process

  • Evaluate the cultural obstacles (attitudes, personalities)

  • Assess the effectiveness of groups in fulfilling their objectives

  • Request opinions on sensitive matters

  • Coach the leader and participants

  • Always ask candid and inquisitive questions

  • Keep the pulse of why someone is doing this/that/the other

  • Keen ability of Active Listening (Contact, Absorb, Feedback, Confirm)

  • Assign and teach your scribe

  • Use a variety of methods for 1) one person talks, 2) everyone gets to speak

  • Record decisions and lessons learned

The Lean Six Sigma facilitator must avoid the following:

  • Engaging in critical judgment toward team members or their ideas, comments, and opinions.

  • Taking sides or becoming caught up in the subject matter.

  • Dominating the group discussions.

  • Solving a problem, giving an answer, or leading (with bias).

  • Making suggestions on the task instead of the process.

This stuff is hard!

  • Development of these skills takes time and lots of practice and includes constructive feedback and mentorship in various conditions. These skills need to be honed over time and respected as a core skill within any project of key importance.

  • Facilitation requires consistent concentration, therefore, can be extremely tiring. Realistic timelines and goals should be evaluated prior to and during an event to maintain peak performance.

Facilitating versus Doing

Successful Lean Six Sigma facilitators are those aware they do not have to deliver the process map, figure out the root cause of the problem, or develop that solution. Instead, they understand that their role is to facilitate those outcomes from their team.


Groupthink is "A mode of thinking that people engage in when deeply involved in a cohesive group. When members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to appraise alternative courses of action realistically" (Janis, 1971). The eight symptoms of groupthink are:

  1. The illusion of invulnerability – This creates an overly optimistic mindset that promotes the adoption of extreme risks.

  2. Collective rationalization – Members disregard warnings and fail to reconsider their assumptions.

  3. Belief in inherent morality – Members strongly believe in the righteousness of their cause, leading them to disregard the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.

  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative perceptions of the "enemy" undermine the perceived necessity of effective responses to conflicts.

  5. The direct pressure on dissenters – Members are pressured to refrain from expressing arguments against groups.

  6. Self-censorship – Suppressed, and individuals refrain from expressing doubts or deviations from the perceived group consensus.

  7. The illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be universally shared within the group.

  8. Self-appointed 'mind guards' – Members protect the group and the leader from information problematic or contradictory to the group's cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

This is a collection from many sources, across multiple disciplines through many years of actual facilitation, coaching facilitation, and under the mentorship applying the art of highly skilled facilitation. Contributors of this paper continue to perfect this craft and take immense pride in learning from some of the greatest.

Janis, Irving L., Victims of Groupthink, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1972)


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