Today as I shared on Ensemble Testing at EuroSTAR around lunch, one of the questions lead us to discuss specifically what the facilitator can do to make ensembling better. Watching people fail is the back row would make me squirm uncomfortably, so what can I do?
These things have been very useful to me.
1. Support Moving Forward with Questions
You see the driver on the keyboard not moving, and the navigator off keyboard unable to decide what to do. Ask questions! For example, you could ask the navigator "What would you like to do next?". A more general rule is to try to talk in questions as a facilitator. Think about what you want the ensemble to do so that they would work well and have a great experience, and frame your comment as a question that guides them towards that great experience.
2. Call out a Thing They Do
You see them doing something that they don't realize they do, but you realize because you've seen others do the same but struggle. Call out the pattern. For example, an ensemble making good notes about their testing with a feature - variable - data -structure modeling that you have learned to appreciate, name it in the moment. Giving something a label makes it something that is a little easier to retain.
Don't overdo this during the session, you can also save examples to point out in the retro. Call it out if it helps in the moment to retain the thing and adds to vocabulary they use to successfully communicate.
3. Step in to navigate
I use this one on teaching ensembles a lot, but also have found it useful on difficult work. For example, I might say: "Let's pause the rotation and I'll navigate a bit." This frees the current navigator who steps back to continue with timer as soon as I step out.
I use the same pattern with a single expert - asking them to navigate when the struggle of the others in the ensemble is no longer benefit for their learning. That is, I only step in to show if I know, but I can also ask someone else, or even a volunteer to step in a while.
4. Stop the Ensemble to Mini-retro
Make space for them to fix themselves. A lot of new ensembles need that. Well, a lot of older ensembles still need someone pointing out they should have a conversation. I once watched Woody Zuill do just that - point out a dynamic that the team needed to have a conversation on.
Some of my best facilitation tricks are on calling out a retro after just a few rotations. People somehow need a moment where they agree on how to fix their work style to fix the work style. The facilitator can create those spaces.
5. Set a Constraint
In one of the first ensembles I ever facilitated, I saw my co-facilitator use this to make me the expert of the group and stepping in to navigate. With a twist though - I had narrow rules on the type of work I was supposed to do. The work was exploratory testing, and the new group struggled with note taking. The constraint applied on me was to only improve notes - structure and content of what we had already learned.
I have used this technique since, and it works great but different groups need different constraints.
Helping the ensemble figure out what is the scope of the task they are on now is setting these constraints. Thinking in terms of what is included, how to add to what is included only with "yes, and..." rule and parking ideas for future help an ensemble work.
6. Visual Parking Lot
Create a space, in the documentation or on a whiteboard - to make notes of things you leave for later. People generate great ideas while the work is ongoing and they may forget them by the time we seek for next work to do. Give them a space / mechanism to park those somewhere as they emerge, and call reflection on structuring the parking lot occasionally.