Articles on: Action Planning

Focus Groups: How to Guide Part 2

Facilitation Guidelines

Employee focus groups can dig deeper into problems and causes identified in employee surveys, and can surface suggested solutions. Once you have determined the purpose of your employee focus group, what questions will be asked, and have finalized the timing and location of your focus group, it’s time to ensure you’re ready to facilitate the discussions.

Use the following step-by-step facilitation guide below to gather open and honest employee feedback.

For a step-by-step guide on planning your employee focus group, make sure to read Focus Groups: How to Guide Part 1.

Build rapport at the outset

Often participants don’t know what to expect from focus group discussions. It’s helpful for the facilitator to outline the purpose and format of the discussion at the beginning of the session to set the group at ease. Participants should be told the discussion is informal, everyone is expected to participate, and divergent views are welcome. Rapport is important to the facilitation process because it can dramatically influence the willingness of participants to answer questions, and how openly and honestly they answer the questions they’re asked.

Let participants know you’re there to learn from them.

Establish ground rules

At the beginning of a focus group, it’s helpful to let everyone know about some ways to make the process smooth and respectful for all participants. The following are some recommended guidelines or “ground rules” that help establish a group norm:

Only one person talks at a time.
Confidentiality is assured. “What is shared in the room stays in the room.”
It’s important to hear everyone’s ideas and opinions. There are no right or wrong answers – just ideas, experiences and opinions, which are all valuable.
It’s important to hear all sides of an issue – both positive and negative.
It’s important for women’s and men’s ideas to be equally represented and respected.

Once the above ground rules have been presented, it’s important to ask participants if they have anything to add to the list.

Ensure even participation

When posing a new discussion topic, allow a few moments for each member to carefully formulate their answers.  If one or two people are dominating the meeting, call on others. Consider using a round-table approach giving each person a minute or two to answer the question. If domination persists, bring it to the attention of the group and ask for ideas about how participation can be increased.

Listen carefully

Active listening allows you to probe effectively and at appropriate points during the focus group. It involves not only hearing what someone is saying, but also noticing body posture and facial gestures that might provide clues as to the appropriate or necessary ways to engage participants.

While showing participants that you’re actively listening and interested in what they’re sharing, remain as neutral or impartial as possible, even if you have a strong opinion about something. Comments that infer your opinion and impose judgment will shut down discussion.

Use probing techniques

If participants give incomplete or irrelevant answers, probe for fuller, clearer responses. A few suggested techniques are:

Repeat the question – repetition gives more time to think.
Pause for the answer – a thoughtful nod or expectant look can convey that you want a fuller answer.
Repeat the reply – hearing it again sometimes stimulates conversation.
Ask questions to provoke more detail – use neutral comments:
- How so?
- Please tell me (more) about that…?
- Could you explain what you mean by…?
- Can you tell me something else about…?
- Can you tell me more?
- What specifically do you mean by that?
- Can you share an example of what you’ve mentioned?
- Is there anything else?

Monitor time closely

Stick as closely as possible to the agenda and time frames in order to touch on all questions planned. At the end of the session tell participants if they feel they didn’t have time to make a point or suggestion to write it on the notepad provided and hand it to the facilitator before leaving.

After each question is answered, carefully reflect back a summary of what you heard

The note taker/reporter may be in the best position do this.

Close the session on a high note

Tell participants they’ll receive a copy of the report generated from their answers,  reiterate the commitment to mutual confidentiality, thank everyone for coming and adjourn the gathering.


Verify the recorder, if used, worked throughout the session.
Make additional notes on your written notes, to clarify illegible scribbling or notes that don’t make sense, ensure pages are numbered, etc.
Write down any observations made during the session. For example the nature of participation in the group, any surprises.
Conduct moderator and reporter/assistant moderator debriefing.
Note themes, hunches, interpretations and ideas.
Compare and contrast this focus group to other groups.

Updated on: 11/18/2022

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