Use Participant Engagement Tools to help build consensus

A week ago, I was hanging out in Halifax, as a participant in the week-long International Association of Facilitator’s annual North America conference.  I was there to connect in-person with some colleagues I’ll be doing some work with, as well as to learn.  And learn I did.

I self-refer as a mediator first, and facilitator second.  Yet, I facilitate all the time.  At its core, mediation is facilitated negotiation.  In Halifax, I met a whole bunch of folks who see themselves as facilitator, first.

Participant Engagement Tools

One of workshops I attended was facilitated by Gary Rush, President of MGR Consulting, in Chicago.  Gary teaches facilitators how to facilitate, better.  I see him as a master craftsman.  He thinks holistically.

Gary’s workshop focused on the use of what he calls Participant Engagement Tools (PETs) ,structured games and exercises to build group consensus.  PETs to get participants to know each other, to learn to work together, to generate ideas, to challenge paradigms, to make decisions.

Divergence, Struggle and Convergence again and again

There are thousands of creative games, exercises and tools out there to help the facilitator, and that can be adapted as a PET.  Or heck, you can create your own.  Either way, I found Gary’s tack refreshing.

In particular, I loved his lens that each PET only be applied with intention, and that each PET is about collective growth.  And, maybe most important, it builds on emotions and the cycle we go through to understand our differences and build consensus.  That cycle is one of 1) divergence, 2) struggle and 3) convergence.

  1. Divergence: Everybody in the room needs to feel heard, to express their perspective, and to contribute to the conversation.  Divergence is more information, more ideas, more options.
  2. Struggle: With all this newfound information, people will struggle to understand each other’s perspective or point of view.  The
    struggle is normal and to be expected.  Healthy conflict is essential and is required to reach consensus.
  3. Convergence:  Participants narrow the ideas down to reach consensus.  Listening enables a group to come together.  Once they begin to listen, they begin to converge on a consensus, a solution they can all live with.

That�s the cycle for one PET.  The process gets repeated with each PET.  It makes total sense to me.  Iterate your way to something new.  Its how great innovators do it.  Sprinkle your session with a few well chose and executed PETs and consensus will be that much closer.

Working with PETs

Let’s say you have a 3 hour workshop to facilitate.  And, you plan to intentionally deploy 3 PETs (each different of course, as diversity is good).  For each PET, you will need to consider its purpose and objectives, facilitator instructions, participant instructions, timing, preparation, materials, and debriefing questions.  Intentionality does not mean you have to sacrifice creativity.  You can “gamify” your PET.  You can use a PET that works by giving participants more control over the process.  You can…

Now, imagine yourself in another facilitative context, perhaps as a mediator?

How will you engage the people in the room when stalemate arrives?  What’s in your participant engagement toolkit?

We speak of the value of creativity and intentionality, in the mediator role.  I know I have work to do on this front.  How about you?

What’s your best PET?



  1. Ben… this wise and wonderful post would be a great companion to Michael Murphy’s classic book, Golf in the Kingdom which has almost been made into a movie many times…. You must be such a sought-after mediator

  2. Thanks Kare. I’m guessing your comment refers to my latest post re: golf? And, I can always count on you to know an awesome companion book. Michael M’s looks fascinating. The Scottish locale reminds me of a pilgramage I made a few years back to St. Andrews (near Edinburgh), the birthplace of golf. It was the British Open tourney. Tiger Woods was the victor that week. Um… re: being sought after. Nice thought. If only I was as good at marketing as mediating. 🙂

  3. Yes I was Ben. This co-founder of Esalen found that golfers who were a great distance from each other, when in the zone, could hear each other when, logically, they should not be able to. It was his way of introducing more people to paranormal experiences. He went on to write about experiments in that space. One of his underlying goals was for us to know that some ways we are connected, for good and for bad consequences, are not always logical….some of the instinctive ways we build consensus — or not — come out of this understanding, thus the connection to your post

  4. Kare… you are doing a good job getting my interest on the author and subject. Once in a while i’ve thought one’s internal exploration via playing golf could be a path to a larger understanding. Not in any mystical way. Just that understanding one thing well, e.g. specifics of my own internal operating system might be a way to make sense of other things too.


  1. […] short duration of the game… perfect for our distributed attentions!   It makes an excellent Participant Engagement Tool, for either an in-person or virtual […]

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