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What are some of the challenges I will face with facilitation and how do I overcome them?

There are many challenges that you will face when it comes to facilitating meetings and scrum events, let me see if I can pull 3 out from the top of my head.

People won’t engage

I’m sure you have been part of meetings where people simply don’t say anything. The chair of the meeting or facilitator is asking questions which are met with silence.


It’s a fairly common problem in meetings because people may be unsure as to what their purpose is for the meeting, or they simply don’t feel safe to voice their opinion and recommendations.

There is a myriad of reasons as to why people won’t engage and your role as a facilitator is to really hone in on which of these things might be at play.

Another dynamic at play is introversion versus extroversion.

The extroverts tend to want to talk in meetings because it helps them think as they articulate their ideas, and it helps them clarify what their priorities are through talking.

Introverts are the exact opposite.

Introverts prefer to listen to all sides of an argument and deliberate on what perspective best suits their line of reasoning or the information they have at hand.

One of the things I will do as a facilitator is attempt to assess, as early as possible, which individuals are more extroverted and which individuals are more introverted.

It empowers me to form a strategy for posing questions and promoting engagement.

I might identify that Fred is an extrovert who is great at getting the ball rolling whilst Jane needs a little time to get her ducks in a row and voice her opinion.

I’ll pose a question and invite Fred to give his perspective and ask a second person, let’s say John for arguments sake, to provide their perspective on the matter too.

After that, I would invite Jane, the introvert, to provide her perspective and seek out any insights or recommendations she may have.

I can then open the topic or question to everyone in the meeting to see if there’s anything more we can add to what we already have and whether the issue can be resolved with the insight and information that we have.

Psychological Safety

As more research on team dynamics and corporate environments has been concluded, psychological safety has become one of the top reasons for high-performing teams and organisations.

In the old days, especially in autocratic environments, people were spoken to not heard.

A line manager issued instructions and everybody simply did as they were told.

In these environments, obedience and diligence were rewarded whilst collaboration and creativity were frowned upon.

In many instances, voicing your opinion or opposing your manager’s decision could actively get you fired.

For this reason, many people have learned to keep quiet and do as they are told rather than actively engage with topics, data, and decision-making processes.

Add in cultural elements and you find that certain societies actively discourage younger people from disagreeing or entering a debate with an elderly person. Arguing passionately with someone senior to you is not only seen as disagreeable but also a dismissible offence.

As a scrum master and facilitator, you want to ensure that your team have psychological safety.

You want to promote and ensure that everyone has a voice that is respected and heard.

Sometimes, as the scrum master and facilitator, I might challenge an idea or a recommendation with the intention of promoting discussion and engagement around that topic.

It might come from a senior developer on the team and my role is to create an environment where all ideas and data can be safely interrogated.

We are actively looking for the best answers and most compelling solutions in our meetings and to achieve that means challenging sacred cows. Challenging the ‘way it’s always been done around here’.

In doing this, I often find that someone on the team might agree with the challenge and voice their opinion and recommendation as a result. It opens the door to a deeper level of discussion and allows the experts in the room to safely speak their mind and share their expertise.

As you facilitate more meetings and scrum events, you will find that over time you are responsible for creating an environment where people feel safe to voice their opinions and objections.

An environment where every voice is respected, and challenges are made respectfully.

A lack of an agenda

When a meeting doesn’t have an agenda, anything is on the cards.

People have no idea what the purpose of the meeting is and are unsure why they are there to begin with.

It creates an environment where people simply won’t engage or worse, where multiple agendas are being pursued without finishing one element before moving onto the next.

A strong agenda helps the meeting stay focused and empowers the people in that meeting to achieve the purpose and objectives of the meeting.

Sometimes, the people in the room may want to pursue an agenda which differs from the original agenda and it’s your job as a facilitator to discover if the new agenda is more important than the existing agenda and whether to pursue that or not.

It could be as simple as asking everyone in the room if the new agenda is more important and urgent than the purpose of the meeting, and if so, make sure the right people are in the room and crack on with the new agenda with the aim of getting things done and fulfilling the purpose of the meeting.

If the new agenda is important but not as important as the original agenda, it’s your job to ensure that the meeting stays on track and that you schedule a new meeting with the right people to tackle the competing agenda at a later stage.

That could be as simple as telling people that you understand the new agenda is important and that you will schedule a time and place for that discussion, but right now the purpose of this meeting is more important and that the team need to come to an agreement on the issue at hand.

Helping the team stay focused on the original agenda is incredibly important and it is your job to ensure that the meeting fulfills its original purpose and that a tangible outcome or way forward is achieved in the meeting.

You can also work with members of the team in advance to help craft a powerful agenda and ensure that people are clear on the purpose of the meeting beforehand and arrived prepared to engage on the topics and issues that need to be addressed in that specific meeting.

So, in summary, those would be my top 3 challenges faced in meetings and how to address them.

Lack of engagement. Psychological Safety. And people failing to prepare a strong agenda for the meeting.

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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