Facilitation. How to prepare for a project?

Facilitation and team coaching are forms of working with groups which require maximum attention to what happens on the group level and on the level of every individual participant. It is also a specific time investment of specific people, who are about to participate, spending time in the meeting.

As Facilitator, I do want to and I do need to know what particular people bring to the session. Because of this reason, I keep it as a rule to run intake interviews before the session.

What are intake interviews are designed for? The  main reason is surely

  • Receiving maximum amount of information to build the fullest view possible of  what actually takes place in a particular group or a team.


But such intake interviews have also other fundamental and useful functions:

  • First contact, which means building a relationship – and building trust – with me, a person, who facilitates the meeting / session / training.
  • “Somebody asks me about my opinion, so it really matters, I feel myself important” – building the involvement of participants, too.
  • Interviews create an opportunity to reduce anxiety, vagueness or tension around the session. An interview is a chance to ask questions, which I can answer from my Facilitator perspective, or to understand the session’s context or goal, and in this sense also indirectly – expectations related to someone’s role in the session.
  • They can be helpful in deepening the understanding of the session’s goal, in case it wasn’t sufficiently communicated earlier.
  • Intake interviews themselves constitute a warm-up activity, thanks to which participants are more ready to work productively. Thanks to that, the actual session time can be used in the most productive way, as much as the readiness of the group lets us do it.
  • Opportunity to check expectations on the session style and rhythm – lets the Facilitator secure themselves from planning forms of work which could cause resistance from the participants’ side.
  • It may turn out that participants’ needs are far away from the goal determined by the project’s sponsor. Thanks to intake interviews, sponsor can revise goals of the project.

I have noticed that Project Sponsor might be a bit anxious about what kind of questions I would be asking to individual people in the intake interviews phase. In case you ever are about to experience such a situation too, below I am presenting a sample list of questions, which I asked in phone interviews in one of the facilitated projects. From the Facilitator perspective, I also think that what is more important than specific individual questions is collecting the answers altogether. Therefore, it is good  when intake interviews take place enough in advance before the project – then I have enough time to draw a coherent picture, my specific interpretation of the team’s situation.

What questions to ask in intake interviews?

  • I introduce myself. In this specific project, which I take as an example here, that Key Account Manager – in this case the sponsor of the project – had written a short e-mail with invitation to all. I delivered the content of this mail to him myself, and of course it was open to get edited by the sponsor. Further on, in the intake interview I present the conversation’s goal (“preparing a session which makes use to all/ to the team”). I try to emphasize my role of a neutral consultant and I ensure about confidentiality of the conversation’s content. I also point out that as a result of these intake interviews I will prepare a small overview for all, taking anonymous bits and pieces from all conversations. I start with “You would surely be interested to know what other people have said, so the way I will do it will be to present a small overview for everyone to see in the session, in an anonymous form.”
  • What do you think could happen in the session? From your perspective, what would be the most useful? – that question leads us directly to the goal of discussion.
  • How does it work (in your team now)? What are you proud of? What makes you happy / smile?
  • What is difficult? What is a challenge? What is a nuisance?
  • Is there an easy way to bring the team to the next level? In your opinion, what could be the first step in that direction?
  • What do you think could happen in the session? – yes, this is not a mistake. The question asked for the second time would  bring a totally different perspective on what might or should happen.
  • And the last – summary from my side: where I am in the process of gathering information, what I know for now on a very general level. At the beginning of the process of collecting information, I know just that I am starting, but at the end I can feel what the main components of our meeting “face to face” will be and I can share it. By word of mouth, it will reach those that I talked to in the beginning, and thanks to that all are better prepared for what is coming up in the face to face time.

Before these conversations I would have a look at the LinkedIn profile and picture of all that I will talk to, and I send them a LI invitation. We try to get familiar with each other, that means also – we build trust… It will be important in our cooperation.

In some organisations with more traditional corporate culture, a phone interview would never be accepted. In such a case, I travel for face to face intake interview meetings. The team’s or director’s assistants are of incredible help in arranging the time in such a way that it would fit all into one day 🙂

What else is important? Confidentiality. It is an absolute must. What anyone told me, remains in my Facilitator’s ears solely. And as mentioned before, I do get participants’ OK for presenting the big picture, which might consist of some individual statements. But they are always made anonymous, I might rephrase them. Everyone is curious about what other team members  said or how their own statement fits, compared to others’ statements.

In the face to face session that comes, we greet each other with curiosity, joy and readiness. The session program takes into consideration goals specified by the sponsor, but also significantly – needs of the participants. We are ready for productive work, Together.


Monika Chutnik
Experienced Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, and Coach. Expert and Speaker. Entrepreneuer and Manager. Founder and Head Consultant of ETTA Global Leadership Consulting. Co-Founder and first President of SIETAR Polska, Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research.

About ETTA Global Leadership Consulting

etta Global Leadership Consulting is a is a dynamic people development company which delivers top class solutions in ● leadership and management in international organizations ● cross-cultural communication and international cooperation ● international M&As ● facilitating management meetings ● managing virtual teams ● diversity management strategies ● executive and business coaching, intercultural coaching