The Ultimate Facilitation Glossary: 50 Facilitation Terms You Should Know (From A-Z)

Don’t let facilitation jargon get the better of you. We explain the 50 most important facilitation terms in our ultimate facilitation glossary. Check it out!

Welcome to the wonderful world of workshopping and facilitation! It’s an exciting, challenging, and fascinating place to be…and, if we’re honest, it can be downright confusing at times. Especially when it comes to the ever-growing pool of facilitation terms and jargon you’re expected to master. 

Facilitation lingo got you in a twist? Don’t stress. We’ve put together all the key terms you’ll ever need, right here in our ultimate facilitation glossary. Work your way through from A to Z, or scroll ahead to the specific term you’re looking for. 

1. Agenda

An agenda outlines the structure your meeting or workshop will take. It details discussion points and activities to be covered, as well as the time frame allocated to each. Depending on how detailed your agenda is, you might also include the designated speaker or leader for each point. Agendas are critical as they keep your meeting or workshop focused on achieving a specific goal.

Learn more: How to Write a Meeting Agenda (With Templates & Examples)

2. Agile 

In the simplest of terms, agile is a way of working. It stems from project management and software development, but is increasingly being adopted by other departments and disciplines. 

Agile teams take an iterative approach to their work, working in shorter, repeatable cycles to deliver incremental value, rather than building up to a final launch over a long period of time. For example, you might work in two-week cycles to design and launch a particular product feature, then spend the next two-week cycle improving on that feature. 
You can learn more about the agile mindset, methodologies, and principles in this tutorial.

3. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a technique used to problem-solve and come up with as many ideas and potential solutions as possible. Brainstorming can be done alone or in a group, and you can write your ideas down or share them verbally. Brainstorming sessions initially focus on generating a high quantity of ideas without getting too hung up on quality or feasibility. 

4. Breakout session

A breakout session is a portion of your meeting or workshop that has participants break away from the main group to discuss or collaborate in smaller groups or pairs. Breakout sessions can be structured (e.g. focusing on a specific activity) or freeform, giving participants the opportunity to chat freely. 

Learn how to plan your own breakout sessions in this guide

BREAKTHROUGH TRAINING VIDEO: How to “win” at the facilitation game

5. Collaboration 

Collaboration is what workshopping and facilitation are all about. It’s when a group of people come together to use their collective creativity and expertise to generate and explore different ideas and solutions. Collaboration is crucial because it draws from a variety of different perspectives and extends beyond the vision of just one person. It’s the key to progress and innovation!

6. The 4C framework (Collect, Choose, Create, Commit)

The 4C framework was developed by Jonathan Courtney, CEO & Founder of AJ&Smart. It’s essentially a workshop model which seeks to cut through ‘busywork’ and supercharge productivity and progress among teams. 

The four components of the model are Collect (gathering information and challenges), Choose (deciding which challenge to focus on), Create (coming up with ideas and solutions), and Commit (creating a plan of action to turn ideas and solutions into reality). 

You can learn more about the 4C framework in The Workshopper Playbook

7. Crazy 8s

Crazy 8s is an exercise typically used in Design Sprints and other workshops to generate ideas. It’s a quick sketching exercise which challenges participants to sketch out eight distinct ideas in eight minutes. The goal of Crazy 8s is to push beyond your first idea (which is often the least innovative) and to generate a wide variety of solutions to a given challenge. 

8. Decider

A decider is the designated decision-maker for your workshops and meetings. It’s the person who is ultimately responsible for making a final decision. While decisions and outcomes are ideally reached collaboratively, it’s important to have a decider who can move things forward and avoid the group getting stuck. 

9. Design Sprint

The Design Sprint is a process which gets you building and testing a prototype in the space of just five days. You get a small team together, clear your schedule for a week, and follow the Design Sprint process to rapidly progress from problem to tested solution. 

10. Design Sprint 2.0

Design Sprint 2.0 is an updated version of the original Design Sprint. While the original format takes place over five days, Design Sprint 2.0 takes just four days to complete—and the full sprint team is only required for two days. Design Sprint 2.0 has been optimized to work not just in startups, but also in large organizations that don’t necessarily have time to commit an entire week. 

Learn more about Design Sprint 2.0 here.

11. Design Thinking

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving. It originates in the design world, but can be applied to all kinds of tricky problems and challenges across a range of industries. The design thinking process gets you to empathize with your users, define their needs and problems, ideate potential solutions, then prototype and test them. 

The major advantage of design thinking is that it encourages you to focus on the people you’re creating solutions for, which ultimately leads to much better products, services, and processes. 

12. Dot voting 

This one is as simple as the name suggests. Dot voting is a decision-making technique used in meetings and workshops. Participants are allocated a certain number of ‘dots’ (i.e. votes) which they can attach to their favorite ideas. By the end, there is hopefully a clear winner (or a few clear winners), helping the group progress towards the best solution. 

Do you make these facilitation mistakes in your workshops?

13. Energizer 

Workshops and meetings can be tiring, no matter how engaging the topic. This is where energizers come in. These are quick, fun activities which are interspersed throughout the agenda to boost the energy in the room and get the group re-engaged. 

14. Experts

Your design sprint or workshop might include an ‘Ask the experts’ component. In this context, the experts are those within the organization who can provide valuable insight into, and unique perspectives on, the problem you’re seeking to solve. 

15. Facilitation

Facilitation is both the skill and process of helping groups work more productively and collaboratively together. It comprises a unique set of skills, techniques, and strategies aimed at fostering and facilitating collaboration, ultimately to help a group achieve their goals. 

Facilitation is also now an entire career path in its own right. You can learn more about why facilitation is the skill of the future in this post.

16. Facilitation skills

These are the skills you need to effectively facilitate meetings and workshops. The most important facilitation skills include things like time management, adaptability, and the ability to energize a group and give clear instructions—to name just a few. 

We’ve outlined the 8 essential skills of an effective facilitator here.

17. Facilitator

A facilitator is a designated person who supports the group in reaching their goals throughout a meeting or workshop. Your chosen facilitator might be someone from within the organization who possesses the necessary facilitation skills (see number 16 in our glossary), or it might be a professional external facilitator. 

Learn more: What Is a Meeting Facilitator and How Can You Become One?

18. Five Whys

The five whys is a strategy for drilling down and uncovering the root cause of a particular problem. It involves asking “Why?” five times, with the goal of revealing what’s really going on (rather than what you might assume is happening). 

Learn how to use the Five Whys technique (with a handy example) here.

19. HMW (How might we) questions 

“How might we” questions are a way of framing problems as opportunities. The way they’re structured gives way to solutions, making HMWs an excellent ideation and problem-solving method. 

Learn how to write and use “How might we” questions in this guide.

20. Hybrid meeting/workshop

A hybrid meeting or workshop involves both in-person and remote attendees. As more and more companies adopt hybrid working models, hybrid meetings are becoming more common. Hybrid meetings come with their own unique challenges, so it’s important to adapt your approach accordingly. 

We show you how to run hybrid meetings and workshops your attendees will love in this post

21. Icebreaker 

Icebreakers are quick, lighthearted activities used at the start of a workshop or meeting to get the group warmed up. They help to relieve some of that initial awkwardness that’s often felt in workshop settings, and get the group feeling comfortable and ready to collaborate. 

Learn more: 6 of the Best Icebreakers for Your Next Workshop or Meeting

22. Ideation

Ideation is both a step in the design thinking process (refer back to number 11 in our glossary) and the general process of generating a broad set of ideas and solutions.

Brainstorming is one example of ideation. Ideation should be a judgment-free zone, with all ‘out-there’ ideas welcome. 

23. Impact/effort Matrix

The impact/effort matrix is a decision-making tool which helps teams to prioritize which actions to focus on. When using the impact/effort matrix, each potential idea is weighed up based on the level of effort required to implement it versus the potential impact or benefits. Based on this evaluation, ideas might be deemed as quick wins (or low-hanging fruit), major projects with long-term impact, fill-ins, or time wasters. 

Learn more about when and how to use the impact/effort matrix here.

24. Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures is a collection of methods which seek to ‘liberate’ people (i.e. teams) from conventional, restrictive, or disorganized workplace structures which prevent them from doing their best work. Liberating Structures empower people to innovate, be creative, and make progress. 

The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless also happens to be one of our favorite facilitation books

25. Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)

The Lightning Decision Jam (or LDJ) is a simple group exercise that was created by AJ&Smart to provide a productive, structured approach to coming up with ideas and making decisions. It takes about forty minutes to run, and it works for remote, in-person, and hybrid workshops.

Check out the official Lightning Decision Jam resource page for more info. 

26. Lightning demos

Lightning demos are used to gather inspiration before generating ideas. More specifically, they focus on exploring existing products and services that can be used to inspire your own. Participants conduct research individually before presenting their findings to the group. 

Learn more about lightning demos here.

27. Meeting 

A meeting is essentially a gathering of people to share status updates or discuss certain projects, ideas, or initiatives. Workshops are more collaborative and activity-based, focusing on achieving a certain outcome. As the Nielsen Norman Group explains: Meetings are where things get discussed. Workshops are where things get done. 

28. Meeting minutes

Meeting minutes are notes which capture what was discussed and decisions that were reached during a meeting. They provide an official record of the meeting for future reference. 

You’ll find a guide on how to write great meeting minutes here

29. MVP (Minimal Viable Product)

An MVP is the most basic, lightweight version of a product necessary for it to be launched and used by customers/end users. Launching an MVP allows you to get feedback and further develop the product based on your discovery of what users want and need. 

30. Parking lot

The parking lot method is used by facilitators to “park” ideas and questions that stray away from the workshop agenda. It’s a simple yet effective technique for keeping the discussion focused without disregarding people’s points altogether. You can simply write down such points as they crop up and promise to revisit them at a later date.

31. Problem framing 

Problem framing is a workshop technique used to clearly articulate the problem you need to solve. Accurately defining the problem is key to finding the right solutions and ultimately giving your end users what they want, so this is a crucial starting point for any workshop. 

Learn more: What is Problem Framing and When Do You Need It?

32. Problem solving

Problem solving is all about understanding a particular problem or challenge and finding feasible solutions. It includes defining the problem (or problem framing—see number 31 in our glossary), coming up with potential solutions, evaluating solutions and choosing one to implement, and implementing and following up on the chosen solution. Problem solving applies to all sorts of challenges in work and life, and it’s an important skill to have. 

33. Prototype

A prototype is a model or representation of how a product will look and/or function once it’s been developed. Prototypes range in fidelity from basic paper models to high-fidelity interactive digital prototypes which closely resemble the live product. Prototyping is a key step in the Design Sprint process (see number 9 in our glossary). 

34. Remote Design Sprint

We defined Design Sprint (and Design Sprint 2.0) earlier on in our glossary (items 9 and 10). A remote Design Sprint puts a virtual twist on the original Design Sprint recipe, allowing you to adapt the Sprint method for remote and distributed teams. 

Learn more: The Remote Design Sprint Guide.

35. Retrospective

A retrospective is a type of workshop which looks back at a past project or initiative to review what went well and what could be improved. It’s a great way to give closure to a project, recognize the team’s achievements, and iron out pain-points for future projects. 

You’ll find a round-up of some of the best retrospective exercises here.

36. Sailboat 

The sailboat is a technique used in retrospective workshops (see number 35 in our glossary). You ask the team to envision the project under review as a sailboat and identify rocks (risks), anchors (delaying issues), wind (things that propel the project), and land (the goals). 

Miro has a handy guide showing you how to run the sailboat retrospective here.

37. Scrum

As per Scrum.org’s official definition, Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems. It’s related to the agile way of working (see number 2 in our glossary), following an iterative approach which breaks projects down into short cycles. 

Learn more: What Is Scrum in Agile?

38. Sequencing discussions 

Sequencing discussions offers a more structured alternative to open, free-form discussions (which is especially important in the context of workshops, where you want to stay focused on a particular goal). For example, you might sequence the discussions in your workshop so that you focus first on the problem or challenge. Only once that phase of the discussion is complete can you move onto the next sequence: coming up with solutions. 

Learn more about sequencing discussions in our guide to designing and running successful workshops.

39. Sticky notes

Sticky notes (or Post-it notes) are an essential component of any facilitator’s toolbox. Whether in paper form or digital, sticky notes allow for the capture of individual ideas

and easy clustering of those ideas into common themes. Most workshop exercises will require sticky notes, so make sure you’ve always got plenty to hand. 

40. Strategy

A strategy is a plan of action that helps you achieve your long-term, overarching goals. From a business perspective, it looks at where you want to be and how you’ll get there. Facilitators may be called upon to run strategy workshops or meetings to help define and review strategies and identify the most important strategic initiatives and action points.

We explain how to run a strategy meeting in this post.

41. Testing

Testing is a key component of both the Design Sprint method and the Design Thinking approach to problem solving (see numbers 9 and 11 in our glossary). When you come up with an idea, a prototype, or an MVP, you need to test it to see how it measures up when put in front of real users. Testing allows you to get feedback on your ideas and improve them, ultimately bringing you closer to success. 

42. Timeboxing

Timeboxing is simply the process of allocating a set period of time to a particular task or activity. Timeboxing is useful for keeping things efficient and making sure you can cover all the necessary points and exercises during a given workshop. 

43. Troublemaker 

Uh oh. Hopefully you won’t come across too many of these, but just know they’re out there! Troublemakers (or workshop skeptics) are those who aren’t convinced about the value of workshopping, or turn up with their own agenda. Spotting and dealing with troublemakers is an essential facilitation skill, and we’ve written this guide to help you master it: How To Deal With Workshop Skeptics (9 Proven Strategies).

44. User journey 

A user journey is a visual depiction of all the steps a user goes through to complete their goal. For example, if you were considering the user journey of a customer on an ecommerce site, you’d map out every step they take: from entering the website to browsing their desired products to completing a purchase. User journey maps help you step into your customer’s shoes and consider the product from their perspective, ensuring a user-centric approach at all times. 

45. Visual thinking

Visual thinking (i.e. thinking in pictures) is the process of communicating, conveying, and organizing thoughts and ideas visually. It’s increasingly used in business to break down complex problems and come up with new ideas. 

If you’d like to learn more about visual thinking, we can recommend Willemien Brand’s book Visual Thinking: Empowering People and Organizations through Visual Collaboration

46. Wireframes

Wireframes lay out the blueprint of how a digital product (usually an app or a website) will be structured. They depict the different elements that will be featured on each page or screen, as well as the overall layout and hierarchy. Wireframes are typically used by UX designers, but they’re also useful for fleshing out ideas during or after a design thinking workshop

47. Working together, alone

This is the practice of working collaboratively but individually. It might sound contradictory, but it’s highly effective. Essentially, it’s when people are working on the same challenge or activity in real-time, alongside each other, but coming up with their own ideas rather than discussing them as a group. Working together, alone, is a great way to ensure that everybody contributes their true thoughts and ideas rather than being influenced by groupthink. 

48. Workshop

A workshop is an engaging, collaborative session geared towards solving problems and challenges as a group. It provides a structured framework in which to collaborate and achieve specific goals and outcomes. Workshops focus on tackling one specific challenge at a time, prioritizing progress and actionable outcomes over ill-defined discussions with no clear results. 

Brand new to workshopping? Start with this guide.

49. Workshop exercise 

Workshop exercises are the activities you run throughout a workshop to move the group towards a solution. There are workshop exercises for everything: problem framing, problem solving, idea generation, decision making, and more! We’ve rounded up five of the most popular, easy-to-learn workshop exercises here.

50. Workshop recipe

A workshop recipe is the framework you can follow to run all different kinds of workshops. It comprises a mixture of different exercises (your workshop ingredients) to help you achieve a specific goal—be it defining a problem, coming up with ideas, or making decisions. You can use proven, predefined workshop recipes or, once you’re an experienced workshopper, devise your own. The world is your oyster!

So there you have it: 50 terms to help you navigate the wonderful world of workshopping and facilitation. 

Want more formal facilitation training? We introduce the best facilitation courses—and show you how to choose the right one for you—in this guide.

Emily Stevens