Creating Processes for Change with Effective Facilitation

Effective facilitation plays a crucial role in driving transformation and fostering collaboration. With hybrid and remote work here to stay, online facilitation tools have become indispensable for professionals like Rachel Gooen. Rachel works with mission-driven organizations that focus on developing healthy people, healthy ecosystems and healthy communities. To do this she facilitates transformative processes to deliver change. She has found great success in curating those processes with the help of GroupMap. Here we delve into Rachel’s experience as a client of GroupMap. We explore her use of the tool and the impact it has had on her facilitation process. By harnessing the power of online facilitation, Rachel creates engaging, inclusive, and transformative experiences for diverse groups seeking change.

Facilitation for the better

Rachel’s journey as a facilitator began with her realization that communities and individuals often require support and guidance to navigate change effectively.

“I … [wanted to]…bring all the voices together so they could hear each other and we could come up with the direction or solution to what they are talking about.”

Armed with qualifications in both environmental science and social work, Rachel embarked on a mission to understand the intricacies of change management and facilitate transformative processes.

Discovering GroupMap

Rachel first encountered GroupMap during the COVID-19 pandemic when the world transitioned to remote work. 

Seeking tools she could use in the online facilitation space, Rachel explored various options and found GroupMap. While other tools seemed overly complex, with participants sometimes struggling to navigate them effectively, GroupMap provided a seamless user experience, allowing participants to easily contribute their thoughts and ideas. 

The role of process design in facilitation

For Rachel, the process is everything; and with GroupMap, she had a tool that took the effort out of building it.

“Having a well-designed process allows people to be comfortable, safe and be able to share what they want to share.”


As a facilitator, her key considerations when building her process is the ease of use for participants. “I don’t want to make something with too many steps or too many complex motions.  I also think about visual appeal and simplicity.  The goal is to help people have an easy time entering their thoughts.”


She often uses


Brainstorm-Action-Results when shaping her maps.

Rachel finds the range of templates available in GroupMap particularly useful.

Unlike other online facilitation tools that may require extensive setup, GroupMap’s simplicity and pre-designed templates were game-changers. Importantly, the templates helped save Rachel time.

Saving time

In addition to the ready-to-use templates, Rachel observed the time-saving effect of a number of other features. 

Firstly, the intuitive, user-friendly nature of the tool eliminated the need to allocate training time to her sessions. Participants can easily navigate the platform, contributing their ideas and feedback without any technical difficulties or learning curves. 

Next, GroupMap eliminates the need for Rachel to spend time manually writing details up on a whiteboard. Instead, ideas are simultaneously added by each participant, and the platform captures and organizes them in real-time. This not only saves time but also ensures that all ideas are captured accurately. 

The ability to export ideas via the report feature is incredibly useful for facilitators like Rachel. They can easily compile summaries of their sessions eliminating the tedious task of transcribing hundreds of post-it notes at its end. This streamlined process of capturing and exporting ideas can enable facilitators to report efficiently, providing valuable insights and outcomes to an organization.

Enhancing collaboration and engagement

The use of GroupMap has enabled Rachel to gather more information from her participants than face-to-face facilitation tends to deliver. Participants seem to know intuitively how to use the online collaboration tool. They appear to happily use it to contribute their ideas because it’s just so simple to do so.

Rachel shared an example of a meeting with a group discussing  invasive aquatic species. By using GroupMap, participants were able to provide input that surpassed the level of engagement achieved in previous in-person meetings.

“…they all felt like we got more information than we would have if we’d just had a discussion.”

The tool facilitated a more efficient and productive session, resulting in a wealth of ideas and perspectives that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

GroupMap also helped Rachel deliver an ‘a-ha’ moment that couldn’t have otherwise happened. With the word cloud feature in mind, she used a simple map, and invited participants to quickly offer their thoughts.

“I made a single column map, titled it “Wish it forward!”  and gave these instructions:   Type in a one word wish for the future WMCC to help them get off to a great start.”

Within a minute, they had created a word cloud. The largest word ‘focus’ appeared at the center. Under it was “collaborate’. Surrounding these were words of encouragement and support.

“… everyone in the room gasped. It was a little bit of magic, and something I could not do in person.”

The moment had such a positive impact on the group that it was agreed the word cloud would be framed and presented to the new incumbents.

Adapting to hybrid environments

Rachel has used GroupMap in the hybrid space. 

In a recent meeting, she incorporated GroupMap into the session to accommodate both in-person and online participants. It also happened to be a meeting for which a number of in-person participants arrived without a laptop. 

Once the spare computers were allocated, there was no need to panic. Rachel was able to guide participants to access GroupMap on their mobile devices.

Again, Rachel’s observation was that GroupMap increased participation levels. This time pointing to the tool’s effectiveness in hybrid settings.

Creating a safe space

Rachel is a fan of the levels of anonymity the tool can offer as it tends to give people the courage to offer their input with greater ease; even among individuals who might have been hesitant to speak up in a traditional setting. 

She shared an example of the importance of anonymity with a mindset mapping warm up exercise. Participants were invited to nominate which one of four mindsets they most identified at that point in time. They were to choose from – 

  • An Innovator, that is they were ready to think creatively and think outside the box.

  • A Relater, that is they were ready to connect with others and build relationships.

  • A Challenger, that is, they were prepared to take on a challenge and push the group to achieve.

  • An Observer  meant they were in the mood to watch and analyse from the sideline.

The group consisted of two Innovators, one Relater, three Challengers and the rest (the majority of the group) identified as Observers. The anonymous nature of their input allowed participants to feel safe enough to honestly share their current mind-set.

Knowing she had so many Observers in the room meant Rachel could tailor her facilitation methods to better connect with the group.

Final thoughts

“GroupMap has made my online and hybrid sessions flow smoothly.  It is an intuitive platform that takes little to no training for my participants.  People in my facilitated meetings have commented that it is the best platform they have used. So not only do my clients get great information from the meeting, I have a tool that makes my process successful.” 

Thanks to our contributor, Rachel Gooen, Facilitator, Trainer and Coach. Through her consultancy, Rachel connects people and organizations with their purpose.

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NFP Develops a Strategic Roadmap through Collaboration in Online Meetings


Non-profit, Strategies for Children needed to collaborate with their community to deliver on their ambitious strategic plan. To do so, they included GroupMap in their tool kit to help them build their roadmap toward an integrated and accessible system of support.

Titus DosRemedios and Marisa Fear share how they used GroupMap and the change it helped to deliver.

Who we are

Strategies for Children (SFC) is a small nonprofit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts (USA). It works to ensure that Massachusetts invests the resources needed for all children, from birth to age five, to access high-quality early education programs that prepare them for success in school and life.  

We focus on state policy, and work with coalitions, grassroots advocates, state agency partners, researchers, and philanthropy to achieve systemic change.

We needed to build a roadmap

In our four-year strategic plan adopted in 2021, we were charged with taking our advocacy work to the next level. By convening all early childhood partners in our state to create a unified agenda for early childhood, that would result in systemic change for more positive outcomes for young children, families, communities, and early childhood professionals. 

To achieve this, we launched the Early Childhood Agenda in October 2022. 

The COVID-19 pandemic shone an important light on the early childhood ecosystem in Massachusetts and created opportunities for systemic change. Early childhood issues are interdependent and can’t be developed effectively in silos.

The Early Childhood Agenda was conceived as a series of convenings, taking a whole-child approach, working across sectors for better policy development and to identify effective solutions that may not be visible from one sector’s viewpoint. 

Together, we would build a roadmap – an Early Childhood Agenda to ensure that Massachusetts has an integrated and accessible system of support for children from prenatal through age eight and their families.

Why we chose GroupMap

The Early Childhood Agenda convenings were virtual – held on Zoom over six meetings, with working groups engaged in content creation during and between meetings. 

There were more than 150 active participants, and a larger community of 400 interested partners.

Our team realized very early on that we would need new tools to effectively communicate, collaborate, and prioritize ideas. 

We chose BaseCamp for a virtual home-base of operations, including archived meeting videos and discussion threads. 

We then chose GroupMap as the primary tool and platform for our Agenda content creation. We had experimented with Google docs and sheets, Jamboard, and other tools for allowing multiple participants to generate content during Zoom meetings. We liked GroupMap’s features, layout, and settings, and decided to try GroupMap for this project. 

We hosted 100 attendees at our first Early Childhood Agenda convening on Zoom. We used GroupMap to review and edit Vision, Principles, Values, House Rules, and Guidelines (see below)


Our audience of participants responded well to GroupMap, so we felt comfortable using it again at subsequent meetings. 

For the second and third meetings we broke into five themed working groups, and each developed a GroupMap of the top challenges in our field. Our staff pre-populated the GroupMaps with initial examples, then all attendee participants joined the GroupMap to type in their own ideas. 

Brainstorming was very successful, and led to grouping, reviewing, editing, then voting. This took place over subsequent meetings and in-between meetings, prompted by emails and BaseCamp instructions.


In the final meeting, we went into working groups again, to discuss solutions. Our team pre-populated these GroupMaps with solutions that corresponded to the top vote-getting challenges from the previous GroupMap. They also pre-populated a few ideas for “lead advocates / state partners” in the bottom row. Then in the meeting, participants added their own ideas. 

As you can see from the examples above, we enjoyed all aspects of GroupMap, especially brainstorming and voting.

GroupMap as a meeting facilitation tool

We wanted our participants to feel heard, valued, empowered, and that they are making active contributions to the discussion and the overall process. This is much harder in traditional meeting settings where only a few people get to speak. 

With GroupMap, everyone can make their contribution simultaneously, and even offline after the meeting ends.

People who join the process late can catch up, and we have an archive for future reference. 

GroupMap allowed us to meaningfully engage with a much larger audience than we ever had in previous convenings.

The Early Childhood Agenda project required substantial community brainstorm, review, debate, voting, and consensus. 

GroupMap enabled us to effectively meet our goals at each step of the process. We had a quick 3-month project timeline: October – December, 2022. GroupMap allowed us to accomplish all our goals and reduced the amount of staff time it would have taken to facilitate this process using other methods.

Our team at Strategies for Children achieved the impossible – building a cohesive community of early childhood advocates online using Zoom, BaseCamp, and of course GroupMap.

We generated far more (and far better!) content from our partners using GroupMap than we would have with traditional discussion or other online tools. 

Thank you GroupMap team for creating this innovative product. Nonprofit organizations, advocacy coalitions, and other community conveners will find GroupMap an essential tool in their toolkit for achieving social change. 

Thanks to our writers – 

Titus DosRemedios, Deputy Director at Strategies for Children. Titus manages the internal team, contractors, and interns, as well as supports fundraising, policy and advocacy, and external partnerships. 

Marisa Fear, Associate Director of Research and Policy at Strategies for Children. Marisa is the project manager for the Early Childhood Agenda, and leads early childhood policy, research, and data analytics.

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6 Easy Ways GroupMap can Level Up your Online Brainstorming Meeting


Online brainstorming sessions are an effective way to gather ideas and spark discussion. However, facilitators can sometimes find it challenging to support participant engagement and productivity due to the virtual environment. 

Being well-prepared can help you navigate the challenges of the virtual environment and allow you to focus more on generating creative ideas.

Just what is online brainstorming?

Online brainstorming is virtual idea-generating and problem-solving. It’s often a collaborative process where individuals think of new and innovative ideas or create solutions.

Online brainstorming sessions provide a way for participants to get involved and contribute their thoughts and perspectives, even if they aren’t able to participate in an in-person brainstorming session due to distance, where they are located or time zone. 

As with in person brainstorming, facilitators guide the process while creating an environment that fosters safety, creativity and innovation. Similarly, facilitators ensure the session is productive so that it leads to effective problem-solving and decision-making.

Online brainstorming has the advantages of allowing anonymous and independent brainstorming which means each person is free to contribute without fear. It can also remove bias when people simply anchor to a specific idea. There are also time-saving benefits by reducing production blocks, and not having to re-write those sticky notes again at the end of the session.

Challenges of online brainstorming

Although online brainstorming can deliver a number of benefits, it can come with a unique set of challenges. These include: 

Adapting to new technology

As more people host their brainstorming sessions online, more online tools become available that offer greater convenience and better visualization of ideas. 

Interestingly, one of the common issues faced when using these tools is adaptability. While they may often offer great features, they may not include an intuitive or easily used interface. The need to learn new software may end up affecting the brainstorming session. 

Distractions leading to lack of participation

With participants working remotely or from a non-traditional workspace, there may be distractions in the background that could be disruptive. Similarly, participants may misuse the virtual environment and multi-task. Participants may not be as attentive or engaged in the session. This could lead to reduced quality and quantity of ideas being produced. 

Managing the discussion and the focus

The virtual environment may mean there is a lag in communication. This makes it difficult to maintain the momentum of a conversation. 

As well as this, discussions could also go off-topic and move away from the goal of the discussion. One participant may also dominate the whole session or there is a need to manage a large volume of ideas and conversations. Generating ideas (divergent thinking) needs to be balanced with consensus building (convergent thinking). This can be trickier over a camera lens. 

Communication barriers

As the brainstorming session is online and not physical, it may be difficult to understand one another over the devices as well as unable to interpret non-verbal communication. 

It’s possible these factors could adversely affect an online brainstorming session. However, if a facilitator is prepared, they can easily address these matters to ensure a successful and productive online brainstorming session. 

Here are some handy tricks and tips to side-step the challenges. 

How can you level up your online brainstorming sessions?

1. Choosing the right tools 

There is a huge array of tools available online that you can utilize to encourage participation and engagement. 

Here are three must-try tools to ensure an efficient and productive session: 

Video conferencing – Nowadays, there is a wide range of video conferencing software available. Possibly the most popular being MS Teams and Zoom. Each has their own features to set them apart allowing you to choose the one that best suits your needs. Other video conferencing applications include Slack, Google Meet, and WebEx Meetings. 

Brainstorming – GroupMap is a great tool as it has over 80+ templates that you can choose from which lets you visualize your team’s ideas and collaborate effectively. GroupMap’s templates can be incredibly useful, especially if you are struggling to organize your team’s thoughts and ideas or are new to hosting these online brainstorming sessions. These templates can work as a guide to spark discussions, ensure everyone has had a chance to contribute and keep the conversation focused on the topic at hand. 

Task Management – You can then also use planning and scheduling tools such as Trello or Linear where you can begin to implement the ideas into actuality and create relevant tasks. 

If you like to learn more about other online tools, read our blog post.

2. Set clear objectives 

As a facilitator, your role is to guide the online brainstorming session and foster collaboration and engagement, which should effectively result in maximum efficiency and productivity. To achieve this, you should clearly define the objective of the brainstorming session and share it with all the participants beforehand. This ensures everyone is on the same page, can prepare ahead of time, and contribute effectively.

Having your objective at the forefront during the brainstorming session acts as a handy reminder for everyone.


3. Use structure

Providing structure to the brainstorming can prove extremely beneficial as it will not only keep everyone on track with the session’s goal but also assist in organizing their thoughts and ideas.

This is where templates can be really helpful. A Corrective Action Plan, 4P Marketing Mix or  Startup Canvas, for example, can step through discussions and help in reaching solutions.

All of GroupMap templates are customizable so you are able to change the template according to your specifications and tailor it to meet the session’s goals.

You can define the flow of your meeting with a structure that works for you. You can select, customize and order the steps as you need to cater for your specific audience and purpose.

If your online brainstorming sessions usually occur over a period of time, you can build out separate templates for each session and make them specific to that session’s goals. As you progress further, you can keep modifying accordingly.


4. Encourage participation

It is important to ensure participants feel secure to express their ideas, thoughts and concerns. As a facilitator, you can do this by making use of techniques such as round-robin, where everyone gets an equal chance to make a common and provide an idea. Similarly, try to intervene when you think the conversation is going off-topic and bring it back to the initial discussion point.

Another way you can increase engagement is to ask people’s thoughts on the ideas that have been contributed – kind of like an intermission or check-in where everyone can reflect on what has been produced till now. GroupMap has a feature where when conducting an online brainstorming session, participants can be asked to rate, review or vote on the ideas that have been added to a template. (These polls and results are easily savable and can be exported for later use). This is particularly great as the polls and the results can be visually seen on the map being used by the team!

5. Keep a record of all ideas and share them after the session for people to reflect and build upon them.

All ideas that are generated during the online brainstorming session should be recorded and shared with all participants after the discussion has ended. This is even easier to do now that the sessions are done online as you can make use of various tools that save all comments and changes made to a document.

This is a feature GroupMap offers where any ideas added to a template are saved and referred back to if needed. You can then export the ideas, along with any polling results, which can then be shared with the participants for their reflection and to build upon each other’s ideas.

This is particularly important because if there are any technical difficulties faced and the online session may need to be cut short, having a record of the ideas will help to go back to it in the next session and not lose any content generated. 

6. Follow up

Last but not the least, after the online brainstorming session, follow up with all participants to ensure action items are assigned and progress is being made. As mentioned previously, making use of work scheduling tools such as Trello, or Asana, ensures the ideas are then implemented and acted upon. 

If you’re wanting to level up your next online brainstorming meeting, why not try the above tips and tricks? Let us know how you go!

Start leveling up your online brainstorming meetings today.

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Creating a Psychologically Safe Space for Better Collaboration

GroupMap - Creating a psychologically safe space for better collaboration.

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is a term coined by Professor Amy C Edmondson of Harvard University. It describes a workplace environment free from interpersonal fear. It is an unspoken belief shared by the members of a group that theirs is a safe space in which they can take interpersonal risks.

As humans, we remain hard-wired with a fight or flight response. We assess every environment we encounter for risk. We pick up on even the smallest of cues, process them and decide if we’re in a safe place or we’re not. If we register we’re not safe, one of our two, pre-programmed reactions kick in. We find ourselves feeling we want to fight or flee.

We never stop assessing our environment. Even when we’re at work, we have our feelers out.

In a world of ergonomic furniture, fire drills and hand sanitizing stations, it’s easy to assume workplaces would be at the top of the safety list.  But our assessment goes beyond the physical. We gently register smiles, nods and responses. We pick up on eye rolls, sighs and silences. We tune into how our manager and colleagues interact. All to inform the level of risk we perceive to be aligned to our livelihood.

This process is because of our programming. It interprets ‘my job is safe’ as ‘I am safe’.  This is the feeling that’s at the core of psychological safety.

When you are working in a psychologically safe space, your feelers don’t register risk. This means your job receives your full focus. Not only that, the absence of fear means you experience a sense of confidence and trust. You feel you have permission to be both honest and candid. You sense that you can speak up and your voice is valued. This means you feel very comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions and offering comments. It is also a space in which you feel it’s ok to make mistakes.

What Isn’t Psychological Safety?

Edmondson makes it clear that psychological safety isn’t a workplace goal. Rather, it is a means of reaching a goal.

A psychologically safe space isn’t –

  • one that lacks conflict. In fact, conversations in safe spaces can be quite direct, and very candid.
  • one where there’s blind celebration of all ideas. Instead, ideas in safe spaces are still explored and assessed.
  • one that lacks errors or failure. It’s a space in which people feel safe to take risks and experiment with different solutions.

Most importantly, psychological safety isn’t an excuse to slack off or say whatever you like. There is still an expectation people will act appropriately within the workplace. They will be thoughtful and considerate. They will be productive and professional.

Why is Psychological Safety Important?

Author Anthony Hood gives two reasons why psychological safety is important –

  1. Without psychological safety, people are afraid to speak up. When people are afraid to speak up, bad things happen.
  2. A psychologically safe space supports the bottom line.

A lack of psychological safety means fear is present. Fear impacts thinking and decision making. With fear driving our behavior, self preservation is our priority. This means, in a fearful moment, we overlook the bigger picture to protect ourselves. As a result, bad things happen. Those bad things can include planes flying into mountains or patients receiving the wrong treatment.

Psychological safety also supports the bottom line. As work becomes more complex with less resources, team success requires team members to step up. In doing so they are taking an interpersonal risk. When they suggest a better way forward, it will need to be defended when scrutinized. They are presenting themselves as having expertise, possibly greater than that of their peers and manager. They are not ‘going with the flow’. They are ‘rocking the boat’ for the sake of the team delivering value.

High-performing teams typically feel safe enough to take risks. They also care enough to do so.   Edmonson’s work reflected this when she examined the relationship between two dimensions –  psychological safety, and motivation and accountability

GroupMap_Edmondson’s psychological safety and motivation and accountability

Four zones were identified –

  • Learning and high-performing zone.
    An environment of high psychological safety and high motivation is called the learning and high-performance zone. This is the ideal space for a workplace team. They are motivated to take risks and are therefore more likely to experience success.
  • Comfort zone.
    An environment of high psychological safety and low motivation is called the comfort zone. This could be an environment in which there is no fear, but also no sense of buy-in from the team.
  • Interpersonal anxiety zone.
    An environment of low psychological safety and high motivation is called the interpersonal anxiety zone. This is a space in which there is a great deal of fear and people are disempowered.
  • Apathy zone.
    An environment of low psychological safety and low motivation is called the apathy zone. It’s a space in which there’s low performance and very little else.

    The interpersonal anxiety zone should be of particular concern. This is the zone that can be very impactful on an individual’s mental health and therefore wellbeing.

How Does Psychological Safety Improve Collaboration?

Psychological safety improves collaboration in three important ways.

Firstly, psychological safety addresses groupthink. Groupthink is when our desire for cohesion influences group decision-making. We don’t want to appear different from the group, so we favor ideas that will help avoid conflict so consensus can be quickly reached. It occurs when we are feeling unsafe.

Secondly, it also addresses hesitancy. When we’re unsure we will hesitate before sharing suggestions and ideas. In that moment of hesitation we may self-edit or self-censor. When we find ourselves in a psychologically safe space we readily offer our ideas and feedback. This also means more ideas are shared.

Finally, psychological safety supports the evolution of ideas. Without the fear of things such as a judgment or adverse action we freely offer and embrace feedback. We are actively curious and open to possibilities. We will explore the potential of suggestions. This drives creativity and innovation.

In short, psychological safety supports collaboration because we’re not held back by fear. We’re not weighed down by excessive worries about others’ opinions regarding our actions. Our energy isn’t directed to thinking of ways to avoid the potential for embarrassment and other threats. Psychological safety gives us the freedom to engage, explore and create.

What Does a Psychologically Safe Meeting Space Look Like?

Meetings offer a window into the level of psychological safety of a team or group. If the group feels safe, the following four key signs will be observed.

  • Participation is high. When meeting attendees feel safe, they happily engage in the meeting. They will offer ideas and suggestions. They will be curious about the topics being discussed. They will ask questions to clarify and confirm their understanding.

  • Mistakes will be mentioned. When meeting attendees feel safe they will acknowledge and own their mistakes. Their errors will be used as a learning opportunity because psychologically safe spaces are the ones in which learning takes place.

  • Feedback is requested. When meeting attendees feel safe they will actively request and offer feedback. Feedback is seen as constructive. It is understood it is a reflection of the idea and not the person suggesting it.

  • There will be conflict. When meeting attendees feel safe they will disagree. It is understood that healthy dissent can stimulate neural pathways and spark creativity. Attendees will share their concerns regarding an idea. They will offer alternative ideas. They will explore the merits of all suggestions and reach a consensus.

How Do I Know if My Team Feels Safe?

The best way to find out if your team feels psychologically safe is to ask them. Of course, that’s easier said than done. This is because the way someone is asked about psychological safety can, in fact, affect that sense of safety.

For example, if a manager asks a team member if they feel safe, they are highly likely to say that they do. That’s not because they do really feel that way, but rather because they simply want to shut down a potentially uncomfortable conversation. Claiming they feel safe is the easiest way to do this.

Edmondson shaped seven key questions to help assess the level of psychological safety felt by a group. 

  1. If you make a mistake on your team, is it held against you?
  2. Are you able to bring up problems and tough issues?
  3. Do people on the team sometimes reject others for being different?
  4. Is it safe to take a risk?
  5. Is it difficult to ask other team members for help?
  6. Do people on the team deliberately act to undermine your efforts?
  7. Are your unique skills and talents valued and utilized?

The questions help to assess the level of group-based fear. The more fear that’s apparent, the less safe the group feels.

As with our earlier example, asking these questions directly to a group member will distort their response. The best way of capturing feedback to these questions is to allow people to respond anonymously. If time allows, it’s also valuable to allow for asynchronous responses. This means people don’t feel rushed or pressured in any way.

As time passes and team members come and go, it’s important to revisit these questions. The shared experience of existing team members can be daunting for new people. Not only that, what makes people feel safe will change over time.

What Can I Do to Build a Psychologically Safe Space?

GroupMap - How psychological safety supports collaboration2

While it’s everyone’s responsibility to foster an environment of psychological safety, it is tethered to the top of an organization. Leaders and managers need to model behavior that others will follow.

  • Acknowledge mistakes. Keep the saying “to err is human” front of mind. Show that everyone makes mistakes and that the important thing is to learn from them and grow. It’s also valuable to acknowledge those that helped to identify and fix the error. This reinforces the importance of the team.
  • Be available to the team. Listen to their feedback, concerns, and questions. Listen to their suggestions. Be curious and ask questions that give your team a platform to speak.

  • Respond mindfully. Owning up to mistakes isn’t easy and it should be supported rather than punished. Responding with annoyance, anger or frustration will only diminish psychological safety. It may even teach people to hide their mistakes or blame others.

  • Ask for help and offer it. It’s important that asking for help isn’t seen as a sign of incompetence. Instead, it’s an indication of being self-aware. If someone has a particular experience, make the most of them by asking them to assist. If an important deadline is looming, ask others to contribute to lower stress levels. If someone is struggling, offer to help out. Help is a symptom of good teamwork and collaboration.

  • Facilitate guidelines. They could range from meeting ground rules to a team agreement. Allow the people working together with the opportunity to set the parameters in which they will operate. This will give people the chance to define the behavior that helps them feel safe.

  • Nominate a devil’s advocate. Appoint someone to be critical of ideas rather than supportive. This distances an individual from any criticism they may issue as well as helps to ensure all ideas have rigor.

Everyone can contribute to psychological safety by  –

  • Saying what you would want to hear in the workplace. If you were new, had made a mistake or done a great job, what would you want to hear from your colleagues? Well, say it. Connecting with empathy and demonstrations of support will foster a sense of trust and safety.

  • Keeping things in context. You could be a part of a project group, a workplace team, or a committee member. You are a member of a group that has a purpose so don’t make it personal.

  • Expressing gratitude. The positive effects of gratitude range from better sleep to an increase in life satisfaction. Expressing gratitude is a way of acknowledging the help that was received. As we’ve said before, help is a sign of collaboration and good teamwork.

Make your Meetings Safer with GroupMap

Supporting psychological safety does take some effort but it’s well worth the effort – and GroupMap can make it easy.

Groupmap supports the effective delivery of workshops, meetings, teaching, and training. It boasts features specifically designed to overcome barriers to collaboration, foster a safe environment and increase meeting participation.

You can start straight away with any one of the 80+ templates.

Use GroupMap to run your next online session today.

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Case Study: Hackathon Brainstorming and Team Judging


GroupMap was used as the collaborative idea management tool for teams to create new marketing ideas using the lean model canvas and as an online competition judging software so that judges could score the team pitches in real-time. The Curtin University Marketing Hackathon was a 2-day event held at Technology Park. High school students, current undergraduates, and professional marketing gurus came together to brainstorm innovative new ideas to improve student attraction and retention.
[mk_image src=”” image_width=”800″ image_height=”350″ crop=”true” svg=”false” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”inside-image” align=”center” margin_bottom=”10″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]Kicking off was a spread of ideas from student festivals through to a make your own “course”, teams then formed comprised of a minimal of 3 skill sets along with the founders.

Hustlers (someone who has professional industry experience) hipsters (the creative types able to expand upon ideas and generate content) and hackers( the programmer and/or website-maker of the clan), combined with an honorary high school student create a dream team of mixed superpowers (special skills and talents).[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1557985490678{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]But how do you coordinate the diverse views and conflicting views to create a more consensus approach? With time ticking, it was important that each and every person in the team was focused in the same direction.

Using the Lean Model Canvas as the foundation – with a small tweak customized to suit – teams rapidly planned out their plan of attack, consolidating their idea.

Teams could plan their approach, share this with their mentors and test which assumptions they needed to most validate.[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][vc_column_text]

“Using the lean canvas on GroupMap was a really handy tool that allowed our group to systemize our strategy. It helped us find our feet using the template as a guide as it was really easy to go astray,” said Sean Eamer – current student and Hackathon participant. “We had to deconstruct our grandiose business idea into smaller pieces and proved to be a good way to go through and re-evaluate things.”

[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1557985591382{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]The next 48 hours was a fun, intensive and gruelling event, with pivoting of ideas, validation with key customers and reaching out to people online, face to face and in classrooms.[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1557985581188{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Finally, it was time for teams to pitches. Judges representing internal departments, agency partners and student representatives provided feedback and scores against criteria, in real time, using GroupMap as a contest judging software.[/vc_column_text][vc_row padding=”0″][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row padding=”0″][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1557985646858{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]We obviously can’t share what the winning ideas were, but congratulations to the winning teams from both the judges and from the People’s vote. We wish you a truck load of success as you move to the next phase of bringing these initiatives to life.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row padding=”0″][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” align=”center” crop=”true”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row padding=”0″][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1557985716737{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]So why run a Hackathon and how do you smash out amazing outputs over 2 days? Here’s what some of the judges had to say about the event. Read the full story here.

“We use startup methodology and processes to rapidly test some ideas on our customers, generate break-through thinking…. We were able to accelerate the design and development of new ideas over two days to such a degree that we had multiple test websites built, channel plans developed and initiatives practically ready to launch.”
Ty Hayes (Chief Marketing Officer)

“The diversity and quality of ideas generated demonstrated how a traditional marketing problem can be resolved quickly and effectively across a broad range of marketing platforms using innovative thought processes.”
John Discoll (CEO at Marketforce)

“With the university sector increasingly targeted towards online learning environments it is vital we maximise our use of emerging technologies and processes to become a recognised international leader in research and education.”
Valerie Raubenheimer  (VP Corporate Relations)


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Feeling inspired to run your own Hackathon?

We thought we would share a few learnings and tips.

1. Support from the top

It’s great to have energy on the day. In fact, the participants bring this with them. But the message from decision-makers and leaders is about supporting both the wins and fails of the day and nearly shouting out from rooftops about why they are supporting the event. The last thing you want is a room full of personal mental blocks full of people worrying about what they need to get done by as part of their day to day job.

2.  Space matters

Over cater just by a little, don’t skimp on the coffee, keep the brain health and don’t forget the right levels of cush for the toosh. Whether it’s bean bags, sound bytes or a good dose of fresh air, make sure both the devices and participants are juiced up and ready for action.

3.  Structure for synergy

Using collaborative software to allow for the pollination of ideas. Set the ground rules but don’t be an administrative nazi. Give people space to think but capture things quickly and encourage quick but effective decision making so that they can get on with validating the idea. Use team voting to get past blocks. Coach mentors to be add ons. They should offer direction, not just critique. Finally set a few milestones to keep teams on track.

4. Start with the end in mind

Okay, so this is a concept espoused by Steven Covey, but it applies even in the world of Hackathons. With limited time frames, teams need to focus on the key action points that will drive the greatest value and aim for a particular outcome by the end of the session. The judging criteria will drive behaviour and so it makes sense to create the context about how teams will be judged on their final outputs. Making sure your criteria meets the goals of the event. Think of this way…imagine the perfect demo and then work backwards from there.

5. Give feedback to teams and plenty of it

Whether or not your judges scribble things on little bits of paper or a worksheet, or use a real-time judging software, the key thing is to get that feedback to the actual teams. They have worked hard, and if there’s no feedback, there’s no learning. And isn’t that the whole point? Of course, we would recommend you open it up to the audience to give feedback to teams.  The worse teams have the most to improve so every piece of feedback matters.
Take a peek at what happened.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
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Want to use online brainstorming or competition judging software at your event? Get in touch with us.


Three Easy Ways to Foster Gratitude in the Workplace with GroupMap

There’s a lot to be said for showing gratitude in the workplace; and with the end of 2021 insight, it struck us as the perfect time to reflect upon that for which we are grateful.

As passionate advocates of lifelong learning and shameless fans of brainstorming, we’re keen to help you do the same. So we have come up with three simple ways to use GroupMap to finish the year (or any session for that matter) with gratitude.

Checking in or out with Gratitude

Check-ins and check-outs are short activities that happen at the start and end of meetings or collaborative sessions.

They are a perfect opportunity for reflection and are one of the many mechanisms that can be added to your toolbox of useful techniques that help to build team connectedness.

A gratitude check-in or check-out is simply a matter of asking participants for whom or what they are grateful and why. There are a myriad of ways of phrasing this question as well as a number of different mechanisms that can be used to deliver them.

For example, starting with GroupMap’s Blank Wall, add a simple backdrop and invite participants to share who has helped them in the last 24 hours –

Similarly, like a lot of the maps, GroupMap’s Exit Ticket 3-2-1, can be adapted to invite participants to identify examples of gratitude –

If time is limited, adding a survey to your process is an easy way of kicking off or finishing your session with gratitude –

A Gratitude Retrospective

A retrospective is an agile project management tool used to support a review; they are a great way of viewing any event or undertaking through the lens of gratitude.

A member of the Groupmap team adapted our Mad Sad Glad retrospective to help us review our 2021.

Here’s a snippet –

While a Gratitude Retrospective can be run synchronously, we decided on an asynchronous approach so we could each work the retrospective around our end-of-year commitments and not rush our responses.

The responses of the retrospective will be shared amongst the team just before we finish up at the end of the year; this way we will end 2021 on a note of gratitude.

A Gratitude Brainstorm

If you’re looking for a more flexible approach to embracing gratitude, brainstorm could be more your style.

Here’s GroupMap’s Simple Brainstorm being used to encourage people to share –

Last of all

Giving people the opportunity to express their gratitude, fosters positive team connections, an atmosphere of understanding and makes people feel valued.

We’d love to hear how you use GroupMap to foster and showcase gratitude in your organisation.

Share your story.

Using Agile Retrospective Boards to Run Online Meetings with your Team

running-an-agile retrospective

Regularly scheduled, mandatory meetings have the potential to wreak complete havoc on team efficacy and morale. They can come in many guises (a weekly staff meeting, a fortnightly team meeting or even a monthly status meeting).

More often than not –

  • you attend because you have to
  • the agenda is either exceptionally generic or non-existent
  • it could be replaced with an email

When meetings are online the situation can be exacerbated. A virtual meeting environment can allow participants with muted microphones and inactive screens the opportunity to multitask, disengage or simply wander off.

Does this sound all too familiar?

What you need is a way of making that regular meeting –

  • engaging and focussed
  • relevant and purposeful
  • productive and fun

What you need is an agile retrospective board.

What is Agile?

Agile is an iterative process underpinned by specific values and principles, and was originally proposed to support the delivery of software. 

It is a collaborative approach that sees a basic product built up incrementally into something more complex through a process of regular review and improvement (think along the lines of a cake that you improve every time you cook it).

Agile has become more widely applied, and is now often used to describe a project management style that is utilised by multiple industries. 

What is an Agile Retrospective Board?

Key to the agile process is a retrospective; a regularly occurring meeting during which “the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly”¹. 

All of the ideas generated in the meeting are captured on an agile retrospective board; the board itself can come in many forms – 

  • a wall or window with post-it notes
  • a whiteboard or flip chart page
  • an online collaboration tool

Typically, the board will utilize a format or follow a template designed to help elicit input from all team members. Whether a traditional board such as the agile retrospective or a more creative board such as the hot air balloon retrospective, all formats are designed to – 

  • give all team members the opportunity to speak up
  • support the review of recent experiences
  • inform decisions as to next steps
  • support the continuous improvement of both the product and team

Why Use an Agile Retrospective Board?

An agile retrospective board delivers value to a meeting in a variety of ways.

  • They offer a clear structure that supports a transparent meeting process 
  • They allow all participants to contribute equally, thereby encouraging engagement, fostering collaboration, and supporting equity
  • They provide focus and therefore bring purpose to a meeting
  • They facilitate the easy capture of ideas

When built with an online collaboration tool, retrospective boards are particularly beneficial; as well as delivering the above value, they can also – 

  • allow participants to contribute anonymously. Such a feature helps to side-step group-think, ensure all voices are heard at the same volume and supports a psychologically safe workspace
  • automatically capture ideas and comments inputted by participants, significantly streamlining the meeting documentation process
  • automatically generated reports that can be shared with all participants  
  • be used online with co-located, remote, and hybrid teams.

How do you Use an Agile Retrospective Board Online?

Typically, an online retrospective meeting sees video conferencing and online collaboration tools used to create a virtual space in which team members can – 

  • reflect and discuss their most recent experiences
  • prioritise on the key discussion points through independent dot voting
  • agree upon next steps and capture actions

The reflection is guided by the type of board or template that has been chosen. For example – 

in a  4Ls Retrospective, participants share – 

  • Liked: What happened that they really liked
  • Learned: What they learned
  • Lacked: What happened that could have been done better
  • Longed For: What they wish was happening


while in a Start Stop Continue Retrospective, participants consider – 

  • Start: the activities the team will be doing in the next cycle
  • Stop: the things that didn’t work and should cease
  • Continue: the things that worked in the previous cycle and need to be part of the team’s core activities

Retrospective meetings follow four main steps.

Step 1 – Set the Virtual Stage

  • Choose the tools you will be using to create your virtual meeting space and ensure everyone understands how to use them! A great way to do this is to consider a dry run; this will help participants check that the technology works, and connectivity bugs are fixed.
  • Build cadence by locking in a regular time slot in everyone’s schedule.
  • Draft some ‘house rules’ for the meeting itself to ensure everyone in the virtual room understands what is expected of them and what they can expect of others.
  • Choose a template that will support the needs of your team. The Start Stop Retrospective, for example, is perfect for a team with little time and are keen to get straight to the point.
  • Consider the psychological safety of the virtual space. Allowing participants to contribute anonymously helps to ensure personalities don’t influence the perception of ideas.
  • Share the template to counteract recency bias. Sending the template out before the meeting allows participants to add their input as and when they can.

Step 2 – Collect Data

  • Start the meeting with an icebreaker to get participants talking then offer an overview of the retrospective.
  • Give participants time to review the ideas already included on the board and add more.

Step 3 – Decide What to Do

  • Have participants group similar ideas together.
  • Vote on the ideas that would most benefit the project then discuss them as a group
  • Translate those ideas into actions to be delivered by the team

Step 4 – Close the Retrospective

  • Summarise the main areas covered in the meeting, and don’t forget to thank people for their time.
  • Share the summary of the meeting along with the actions to which everyone agreed
  • Follow up with the team to help them stay accountable and assist them in removing impediments

Retrospectives are considered a great way to support continuous improvement as they make it easier for teams to identify and duplicate their successes and learn from their failures.

In addition to their practical benefits, retrospectives also help build stronger teams. While retrospectives aren’t a team-building exercise per se, they do create supportive forums in which teams come together to learn and improve.

Start your Meeting Today

A real-time online collaboration and group decision making tool such as GroupMap is a great way to facilitate all manner of meetings, including retrospectives. Each participant is able to contribute equally in a psychologically safe space where their ideas and comments are instantly captured.

Have more questions or would like a demo?

Easy Ways to Develop Key Collaboration Skills


Collaboration is when people work together to achieve a common goal; it’s a practice valued by the majority of top organizations.


When people work together, they can –  

  • solve problems faster
  • make better decisions
  • increase their productivity
  • Increase the likelihood of success

That’s right, with solid collaboration skills, actions become more efficient, and communication becomes more effective. It’s no wonder high-level collaboration skills are amongst the top-ranking soft skills employers look for when recruiting.

The great news is, you can easily improve your collaboration skills with these simple steps.

1. Be Open

Being open or open-minded means considering other points of view and trying to be empathetic to other people (even when you don’t agree with them).

Being open will help you –

  • Learn

It’s impossible to learn if you don’t encounter new knowledge and ideas. Expanding your boundaries and connecting with people who have different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences can help you discover new information and fresh ways of thinking.

  • Feel happy

Being open can help support a more optimistic outlook. It helps you explore new experiences, embrace new friendships and consider alternative ways of doing things, all while being less judgemental. 

  • Broaden your horizons

The bigger your world, the greater the number of possibilities that exist for you. Unpacking your existing beliefs and considering new ideas can help you gain fresh insight into the world and yourself.

  • Build resilience

Staying open to new ideas and experiences can help you become stronger. You learn to better contextualize failure, become more self-aware, develop mechanisms to better deal with uncertainty, and remain motivated.

Becoming more open is surprisingly easy –

  • Decide to be open

That’s right, making the conscious decision to consider other points of view and how others may feel will help you become more open-minded.

  • Listen

Engage with empathy, suspend judgment, and pay attention to what is being said. While it’s important to seek clarity if points aren’t clear and paraphrase to ensure you’ve understood things correctly, keep in mind this isn’t about what you think, but rather what you can discover.

  • Exhibit curiosity

Seek information and ask questions of others so you better understand their points of view; you can say things such as –

    • Tell me more.
    • What ideas were explored?
    • What was considered?
    • How was the decision reached?

and examine your own understanding by considering –

    • The reliability of your information (are they facts or opinions?)
    • How much you really know about the topic
    • The process you followed to reach your conclusion
  • Remain mindful of bias

Unfortunately, humans come fully equipped with a variety of inbuilt biases. There’s confirmation bias (where we unconsciously pay more attention to things that support our existing beliefs and ignore things that challenge those beliefs); anchoring (this sees us heavily value recent information or experiences and then use it to make judgments); the halo effect (we make the assumption that if a person, brand or organisation is good at one thing, they will be good at another); the Dunning-Kruger effect (we perceive ourselves to be smarter than we really are). 

There are many, many more types of bias. The important thing is to be aware they exist and to take active steps to overcome them.

  • Contextualise expertise

While it’s possible to know a lot; it’s simply not possible for someone to know everything. Strangely, those who consider themselves experts are the most likely to forget this, and tend to more easily dismiss the ideas of others. Additionally, experts are just as susceptible to bias as non-experts. 

When people are open to new information and ideas, decisions can be more creative and better informed.

2. Be Clear

Communicating clearly is essential no matter your role. When channels of communication break down, it’s likely efficiency, productivity and morale will too.

Successful collaborators are good communicators. They are aware that good communication helps to build rapport, stronger working relationships, and of course, convey information. 

They also know that not everyone likes to communicate in the same way; so below we look at the three different types of communication through the lens of collaboration.

  • Verbal communication

Always think before speaking. Giving yourself time to consider your question or response will help improve them.

Consider the words you use. Ensure you’re concise, and use language that’s accessible. Avoid jargon and include unnecessary detail. Once your point is conveyed, you can stop speaking.

Pay attention to tone. Using a friendly, warm tone gives the impression you are willing to engage while using a monotone will make you appear disinterested in the conversation. Paying attention to the tone others use is equally important; if someone is speaking softly, follow their lead; people are more likely to pay attention to voices that sound like their own.

  • Written communication

Keep the outcomes in mind. If you are looking for a way to capture the ideas and information generated during the collaborative session, obviously writing things down is the way to go. If participants record that information themselves it increases the likelihood that the information has been captured accurately. Having participants write down their ideas will also give them time to think about and structure their thoughts. If however, you hope participants will engage in healthy debate or dissent, doing so in writing requires a lot more effort than discussion and it may impact the level of effort participants are willing to direct to the collaborative process.

Consider time. Written communication is a great way to go if you wish to facilitate an asynchronous collaborative session, or if you are working with remote participants. In such a case, ensure you have conveyed timeframes clearly so people respond when you need them to. 

Use a collaboration tool. Using a tool designed to support your collaboration is a game-changer. Not only are they crafted to help you capture and share ideas, but they can also help you structure the collaborative process itself. Additionally, they include features such as surveys, polls, anonymous settings, idea tagging, grouping, and ranking. Participants can enter their own ideas and suggestions with the collaborative tool delivering real-time results and exportable reports that can be easily shared.

  • Non-verbal communication

Make eye contact. Our eyes (along with our eyebrows), can convey a number of nonverbal cues. We tend to look towards the person or thing that has our attention, so if you are staring out the window rather than looking at the person speaking during a collaborative session, it’s easy to tell where your focus lies. 

Maintain open posture. From our heads to our feet, how we position ourselves speaks volumes. We can convey defensiveness (crossed arms and legs), a lack of energy (slouched shoulders), and honesty (open palms). Adopting an open posture (sitting or standing up straight, facing the speaker) gives the impression that you are listening to what is being said. 

Use facial expressions. Facial expressions are the most used mechanisms we have that convey emotions. Interestingly, many facial expressions transcend cultures; a smile, for example, conveys a positive response no matter what language you speak. Engage with your facial expressions; while a quizzical expression will indicate more information is needed, and a smile can indicate agreement, a blank face can indicate a lack of engagement or indifference. People are more likely to respond to positive facial expressions than negative ones.

3. Be Organised

Members of the GroupMap team are big fans of being organized because it benefits you in so many different ways. It helps you get things done faster, makes meetings more effective, and supports the collaborative process.

Being organized will help you build and deliver a collaborative process within a safe environment. It will allow you to focus on the collaboration rather than the mechanics of it.

  • Send out placeholders to book participants well in advance. Holding a collaborative session at the start of a week and month will help you side-step slots that are traditionally aligned to deadlines.
  • Gather your equipment. Whether you’re using a whiteboard, flip charts, post-it notes, or an online tool, procuring the equipment you need sooner rather than later will free you up to deal with other details later.
  • Design your process. Be clear as to the steps you wish your participants to follow during the session. In broad terms, collaborative sessions tend to follow a combination of the following steps – 
    • Brainstorm
    • Review
    • Discuss
    • Vote or rate
    • Define next steps
  • Create space in your own schedule. Ensure you don’t have any pressing matters you will need to address just before the collaboration session. If you can avoid them, don’t schedule meetings immediately prior to the collaboration session, and allocate some time beforehand to deal with the unexpected (flip charts that have been borrowed and not returned, a manager who urgently needs the room you have booked, etc).
  • Follow up. After the session, circulate notes and action items. Check-in with participants to see if they need more information to address the actions allocated to them.

4. Be Critical

No, this isn’t suggesting you become judgemental; far from it. 

Considering something critically is doing so clearly and rationally. Critical thinking requires reason, it sees people actively exploring ideas rather than passively accepting them.  

A critical thinker will look for the links between ideas, and try to gather the information that ensures they have considered all perspectives. They will analyze and solve problems logically and systematically rather than relying on their instinct or intuition. 

To critically consider ideas, you could –

  • ask about the source of information
  • consider if it is a fact or opinion
  • ask if it’s time-proof
  • if the idea subject to any type of influence
  • weigh up pros and cons

To ensure everyone feels comfortable assessing ideas, start with your own. Encourage participants to critique the ideas you offered; have them use the above points to explore your suggestions. 

When collaborating, all ideas should be examined critically. Discussing ideas thoroughly will help them improve. 

Start Collaborating Today

The best way to develop collaboration skills is to practice them!

GroupMap is an online tool that can dramatically improve the outputs of collaboration sessions. 

Whether you’re conducting a collaborative meeting online, face-to-face, or a combination of the two, GroupMap can help you plan and deliver workshops where impactful ideas are generated.

Start your 14-day trial now!

Have more questions or would like a demo?

Want to Facilitate an Online Class Discussion?


Here’s How…

When it comes to fostering a conducive learning environment, it is important to provide plenty of opportunities for the learners to connect with each other.

Not only do these connections allow ideas to be better shared, explored, and evolved. They also help the learner grow a network and establish relationships that enhance the learning journey itself.

In order to connect with each other, learners need to communicate with each other.

The importance of supporting these communication opportunities is most apparent in an online context.

While there are a number of advantages to online delivery that have made learning far more accessible; the artificial nature of the environment strips away the majority of familiar communication opportunities and cues that are inherent in in-person lectures, workshops, and tutorials.

Unlike in-person discussions, effective online discussions require –

  1. An online ecosystem that can support discourse.
  2. Training to ensure participants have the skills to communicate in an online environment with a view to achieving learning outcomes.

This is where you come in.

As an instructor, lecturer or facilitator, you are in a position to guide and support meaningful online discussions that inspire the pursuit of knowledge and nurture learning connections.

There are a number of things you can do to facilitate those online discussions.

Build a Framework of Small Online Group Discussion

Regardless of the context, we all know it’s easier to both hide or be overlooked in a bigger group.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that small online discussion groups offer students –

  • A greater space to contribute with an increased likelihood to feel heard
  • The chance to engage in deeper, focussed conversations, and
  • The opportunity to help navigate those conversations.

Smaller groups also provide facilitators with the chance to work with sets of a manageable size.

Although the ideal size of a group will depend on its purpose, as a general rule, it’s best to ensure online discussion groups don’t exceed ten participants.

Offer Asynchronous and Synchronous Discussion Times

Embrace the flexibility the online environment can offer. Holding conversations in a virtual environment means there’s no longer a need to search for seminar rooms on a central register.

Include groups that meet both synchronously and asynchronously within the small group framework, along with a variety of time slots.

This way students can self enroll into a group that suits both their availability and learning style.

While arranging discussions that are to occur synchronously is relatively straightforward (they require only a start time, an end time, and a medium for interaction), asynchronous discussions require slightly more consideration. Given it’s possible for one group member to post at the start of the week and others to post at the end of the week, asynchronous discussions benefit from a timeframe such as –

  • Friday to Monday
  • Monday to Wednesday
  • Wednesday to Friday

Educate Students as to How to Communicate and Collaborate Online

While incredibly powerful virtual communication media exists, possibly the most impactful error a teacher or facilitator can make is to assume participants are both familiar and comfortable with online discussion tools.

Yes, many students are highly adept at communicating via social media, however not all students know how to leverage those platforms to support learning outcomes.  In fact,  the use of ‘social’  platforms may distract them from their learning. This could hamper their studies and their ability to learn by impacting the effectiveness of their online classes.

There is an incredible range of tools available that can support online discussions –

  • LMS
  • Video conferencing platforms
  • Discussion boards
  • Collaboration tools

Regardless of the mechanism you use, ensure students are familiar with the mechanics of the tool.

Of equal importance is to be transparent as to the type of data those tools can capture. If those tools are able to capture data to inform reports – share the nature of those reports with your students, especially if the tool is helping to inform the assessment.

Provide Clear Discussion Guidelines, Expectations, and Instructions

Just as you would with an in-person small group discussion, the online equivalent requires a purpose, focus, prompt or even an agenda.

All small group discussions benefit from a facilitator to curate the discussion flow. It’s also a great idea to include an observer who offers feedback not on the topic, but rather the mechanics of the discussion and group dynamics.

A discussion could take many forms, from a short presentation followed by questions, through to a debate, or a creative exploration of a topic.

It’s important to ensure there exists a shared understanding as to what constitutes an online conversation, especially as it will differ depending on the tools being used to support that conversation.

For example –

  • If using a discussion board, a certain number of different types of posts may be expected.
  • If using a video conference platform, perhaps questions and feedback of a particular standard is required.
  • If using an online collaborative tool, it’s possible a percentage of input is necessary.

As always, giving students the opportunity to inform both the discussion focus and the discussion forum tends to result in greater engagement.

Explore and Manage the Parameters of the Tool

Regardless of the tool or tools you use in support of your online discussions, ensure you have set the parameters of each of its features to ensure they are supportive of the outcomes you wish to deliver.

Keep in mind that conversations by their very nature are interactive, so depending on your tool you could –

  • Consider the limit of ideas each participant can contribute.
  • Review the way responses can be managed.
  • Apply images, and video as well as text.
  • Avoid infinite threads.
  • Enable screen sharing.
  • Carefully manage editing options.

Get inspired by the way online meetings are managed or look at how Zoom breakout rooms can be used to foster group conversations.

Personalise and Humanise the Online Environment

As well as numerous non-verbal cues, there exist a variety of courteous behaviors we undertake when conversing with people face to face.

The majority of these familiar communication cues and courtesies, however, aren’t automatically translated into the online environment; this absence of humanity can allow all manner of bad communication habits to evolve. These bad habits can erode the effectiveness of online discussions.

Firstly, acknowledge the difference between the environments and call out those behaviors you wish avoided. Sharing videos such as this is a light-hearted way of going about this.

Secondly, encourage your students to humanize the online environment. Suggest things such as –

  • Profile photos.
  • The use of names rather than student numbers.
  • During video conferencing ensure all videos are on and (this can be a contentious one) audio is unmuted.

Look to your students for further suggestions that will help them –

  • Remember they are interacting with people, not bots.
  • Focus on the conversation.

Finally… Research, Adapt and Change

Check out how others deliver online conversations or engage with students online.

Consider combining tools (video conferencing with collaborative brainstorming tools), and don’t be afraid to change tack if things aren’t working.

GroupMap is an online brainstorming tool built to help groups think better together.

If you are looking to create an interactive class brainstorming activity for your students, check out how we can help!

Have more questions or would like a demo?

Why Meeting Agendas are Important


Your inbox is full to overflowing.

You only have the afternoon to meet not one, but two important deadlines.

You don’t have a second to spare.

Yet you are sitting in a room with twelve other people listening to two colleagues discuss an issue with a supplier you don’t know.


You’re in a bad meeting.

Unfortunately, we’ve all been there. We’ve all sat through seemingly purposeless, directionless meetings that just won’t end. They feel like a frustrating waste of time.

What you need is something that helps keep things relevant, focuses conversations, and maybe even determines if a meeting is even needed.

What you need is an agenda.

What is a Meeting Agenda?

An agenda is an incredibly valuable tool that provides a framework for a meeting.

In very broad terms, agendas typically include –

  • where and when a meeting will take place
  • who will attend
  • what will be covered and by whom

The great thing about them is that if used correctly, agendas can boost productivity and, most importantly, save time.

How Agendas Help Plan a Meeting

Compiling an agenda is like pulling together a shopping list so that you only seek out what’s included on the list and don’t waste time meandering down shopping aisles looking at things you don’t need.

Call for Agenda Items

Calling for agenda items means asking people if they have things they wish to have included in the meeting.

It’s a good way of ensuring participants don’t bring things up unexpectedly, so the time allocated to the meeting is appropriate. It also makes people feel valued and included in the meeting process itself.

Agenda items can include –

  • any completed actions that were to be undertaken as a result of the previous meeting
  • draft resolutions or decisions (with supporting detail) you hope the meeting to consider
  • documents you wish to share
  • a report or summary to offer an update
  • items participants are to bring to the meeting

As a general rule, the more people engage with this step, the more likely the meeting will be effective.

Drafting the Agenda

Drafting the agenda means putting all of the items that have been gathered into a logical order. That order is very much informed by the type of meeting that will be taking place.

Formal meetings such as those mandated by the governance of an organisation (board meetings, committees meetings, special task forces, working groups) are likely to have specific topics they are to cover, with discussions and decisions recorded in a particular way.

Collaborative meetings such as decision making meetings, problem solving meetings, team building meetings, and brainstorming meetings, will follow an order that supports its purpose.

In a very broad sense, agendas are usually set out in the following way –

  • The name of the group in attendance
  • The time, date and place of the meeting
  • The people attending the meeting (noting those who aren’t able to attend)
  • (if relevant) the notes or minutes of the previous meeting
  • (if relevant) the actions that were to be taken following the previous meeting
  • The items that are to be discussed
  • (if time permits) items that the agenda didn’t include
  • The time date and place for the next meeting

Ideally, each of the above should be aligned with an allocation of time; the total of those times adding up to the length of the meeting. This means that people understand how much time they have to present their item and can prepare accordingly. It also means that during the meeting itself, the facilitator can, without causing offence, ask presenters to wrap up if they are running overtime.

The agenda can also be used to ensure the right people are in the room at the right time. If someone with specific expertise is needed to support a particular item, they need not sit through the entire meeting waiting for that item to be addressed. Rather, that item can be addressed first and that expert can then leave the meeting or they can be allocated a time to join the meeting.

It’s at this stage, if there’s nothing of substance to cover, or if there is no progress to report, the decision can be made not to hold the meeting at all. Not only does this mean that participants can make plans to better use that allocated time, it is a demonstration of professional courtesy that will be remembered.

Circulating the Agenda

Circulating the agenda means sharing it with those who will be attending the meeting. Any information, reports or documents that were contributed when items were called for should also be shared.

This step has the potential to save an incredible amount of time during the meeting itself –

  • reports and documents can be read beforehand
  • resolutions have already been drafted
  • concerns or questions can be clarified in advance
  • errors or omissions can be identified and rectified

Circulating the agenda in advance will also ensure participants have a shared understanding as to what is to be covered during the meeting, and by whom. They have the opportunity to assess if the meeting is a priority and can even negotiate their absence if need be.

In short, people have been forewarned as to what to expect in the meeting, this will limit confusion and save time.

How Agendas Help Facilitate a Meeting

The meeting is when an agenda truly proves its value.

Using an agenda, a facilitator can help participants navigate through a meeting, ensuring everyone stays on track, starting on time and (importantly) ending on time.

The agenda effectively gives the facilitator permission to shut down conversations that are not on topic or that are running over time; ensuring that which is discussed during the meeting is focused and purposeful.

If important conversations become bogged down, they can be put on hold to be discussed at the end of the meeting (if there is time) or at a completely separate meeting.

If all of the items are covered sooner than expected, the meeting can end. Those who have other commitments can leave without causing offense, those who wish to stay can do so. People are highly appreciative of an efficiently run meeting.

How Agendas Help Document a Meeting

More often than not, notes of a meeting (sometimes called minutes) are to be recorded and kept. When a detailed agenda is prepared, not only has key information already been captured but a framework to structure meeting notes has been built.

Using the agenda as a guide, the person taking notes during a meeting (sometimes called a scribe or secretary), is attuned to the purpose of each item being discussed. They can therefore better focus on recording key points rather than being distracted by conversational minutia.

How Agendas Increase Productivity

Agendas increase productivity in three key ways –

  • they inform schedules
  • they timebox discussions
  • they focus conversations and effort

Agendas allow people to get organised. Participants can ensure their schedule aligns to that of the meeting, they can prepare for the topics that will be covered and safely ignore the rest.

Agendas minimize the impact of Parkinson’s Law; that is, work (or in the case of meetings, discussion) expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. At the same time, they ensure discussions are focused, and therefore more likely to deliver positive outcomes.

Finally, agendas facilitate the documentation and tracking of action items ensuring things aren’t accidentally forgotten or overlooked.

Start Planning your Agenda Today

An agenda is an easy way of bringing considerable value to your meetings.

If you are looking for a tool to help you compile your agenda and facilitate your meetings, GroupMap is here for you.

GroupMap is an online brainstorming, group decision-making, and meeting facilitation tool that dramatically improves the output of collaborative team activities.

Find out how GroupMap can help.

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