Facilitation : Dealing with the Yellow cards

This blogpost is one I wanted to write for a long time. As a facilitator of LAWST style conferences your main task is to keep the presentation of the speaker and the open season questions in good order. We use K-cards for this as explained in this blog post from Paul Holland. The Green, Red, and Blue cards are easy to deal with, but dealing with the Yellow cards is a different story.

At LAWST style conferences, when a presentation is finished, questions can be asked to the speaker. This is called open seasons. Everybody can ask questions. At the kickoff everybody must raise the Green card. These will be noted by the facilitator. By his choice, a person who raised the Green card gets permission to ask a question (the main-thread). During the discussion on the main thread a Yellow card can be raised and a sub thread will be created.

Below I will explain a situation during a discusion, in an open season session after the presentation has finished, how to deal with the Yellow cards. I will use numbers on the Yellow cards to help explain the situation.

During a discussion started by Green card 1, three Yellow cards were raised. You write down the numbers and make a note of the topic (started by the Green Card). See figure 1.

Fig1_YellowCards-Tier1Figure 1.

The discussion stops between Green card 1 and the speaker. As a facilitator you now have the choice to ‘give the floor’ to a Yellow card. For this situation, Yellow card 2 can ask a question to the speaker (Write down some key words of the topic). During the discussion between the speaker and Yellow card 2, two new Yellow cards are raised. The situation is now as follow in your facilitators note book. See figure 2.

Fig2_YellowCards-Tier2Figure 2.

The discussion stops between Yellow card 2 and the speaker, which means as a facilitator you will give the floor to the next Yellow card. That one come from the second tier. Why? Follow the flow of the discusion. Yellow card 3 (from second tier) is prompted to ask the next (follow up) question. While the discussion in ongoing between Yellow card 3 and the speaker, three new Yellow cards are raised (these are tier three cards). Write down the numbers of the yellow cards and make a note of the ongoing sub-thread topic. The situation is now as follow in your facilitators note book. See figure 3.

Fig3_YellowCards-Tier3

Figure 3.

The discussion stops between Yellow card 3 and the speaker. You look in your facilitators note book. On the stack you have :

  • Yellow card 16 as a follow up on Yellow card 2
  • Yellow cards 20 and 21 as a follow up on Green card 1
  • Three new Yellow cards, 4, 8 and 9 as a follow up on Yellow card 3

This is a recap for you self, but mention this also to the audience. You inform them what is going on.

Yellow card 4 will continue with the discussion. The question is asked and the discussion goes on between the speaker and Yellow card 4. You thought as a facilitator, can it go worse that this? Yes, it can. Two new Yellow cards were raised during the ongoing discussion (these are tier four cards). Keep making the one/two key word notes of the ongoing discussion(s). The situation is now as follow in your facilitators note book. See figure 4.

Fig4_YellowCards-Tier4

Figure 4.

You have in your facilitators notebook added to the stack Yellow card 5 and Yellow card 6. The discussion stops between Yellow card 4 and the speaker. You give the floor to Yellow card 5 to ask a question. The discussion starts between Yellow card 5 and the speaker. Luckily for you as facilitator no follow up questions. You give the floor to Yellow card 6. This is a question which is on the same sub-thread, started by Yellow card 4. During the discussion between Yellow card 6 and the speaker, one yellow card is raised (this is a tier five card). The situation is now as follow in your facilitators note book. See figure 5.

Fig5_YellowCards-Tier5

Figure 5.

The discussion between Yellow card 6 and the speaker stopped. You do again a recap of the stack and mention it to the audience

  • Yellow cards 8 and 9 as a follow up on Yellow card 3
  • Yellow card 16 as a follow up on Yellow card 2
  • Yellow cards 20 and 21 as a follow up on Green card 1
  • Yellow card 7 as a follow up on Yellow card 6

If you look at the two recaps mentioned, you can see there is a pattern. If you look at figure 5, you see that you are the position of Yellow card 6. From that point you go backwards to mention all the yellow cards which are still on the stack. When finished, you face forwards and mention what is on the stack. This is most of the time the next question. ‘Yellow card 7, please ask your question’

The discussion between Yellow card 7 and the speaker stopped. As a facilitator, you now mention that you will go back to the sub-thread started by Yellow card 3, because the sub-thread started by Yellow card 4 ended. You mention the sub-topic (the keyword(s) you wrote down) and mention that there a two Yellow cards left on this sub-topic, Yellow cards 8 and 9. You give the floor at Yellow card 8. The discussion between Yellow card 8 and the speaker stopped. No follow up questions. You give the floor to Yellow card 9, to ask a question on the same sub-topic. One Yellow card is raised. The situation is now as follow in your facilitators note book. See figure 6.

Fig6_YellowCards-Card10

Figure 6.

The discussion between Yellow card 9 and the speaker stopped. You give the floor at Yellow card 10 to ask a question. You think by yourself, this is a very good question. And it is. The Yellow cards are raised one after the other. Five in total (WTF, do I have enough space in my facilitators note book to write this all down). The situation is now as follow in your facilitators note book. See figure 7.

Fig7_YellowCards-Cards11-15

Figure 7.

The discussion beween Yellow card 10 and the speaker stopped. You prompt Yellow card 11 to ask the question. The discussion between the speaker and Yellow card 11 ends. Yellow card 12 asks a question and the discussion goes on. Now a Blue card get raised (not depicted in the figure). It seems that this discussion is going into a rathole (or never ending story). As a facilitator you ask the content owner or the speaker if this is correct. You decide to continue or not. We decide to stop discussion between the speaker and Yellow card 12. As a facilitator I ask to Yellow card 13 if the question is the same as discussed with Yellow card 12. It is. You ask to Yellow card 14 if the question is the same as discussed with Yellow card 12. It is too. You ask to Yellow card 15 if the question is the same as discussed with Yellow card 12. It is not. Yellow card 15 will then ask a question to the speaker. While the discussion goes on, a Blue card is raised for the second time. I decided the cut-off the discussion and ask if it can be discussed at a later moment.

As you recover from this situation a Red card gets raised. Clarification, please. Where are we on this thread? What is the topic? You look at your notes and mention that
The sub-thread started by Yellow card 3 has ended.
Yellow card 16 as a follow up on Yellow card 2 (mention the topic of this sub-thread)
Yellow cards 20 and 21 as a follow up on Green card 1 (mention the topic of the main-thread)
All the way back to the sub-thread started by Yellow card 2, you ask Yellow card 16 to continue. Yellow card 16 asks a question. The discussion starts between Yellow card 16 and the speaker. Two new Yellow cards are raised (this audience is on fire). These are Yellow cards 17 and 19. The situation is now as follow in your facilitators note book. See figure 8.

Fig8_YellowCards-Cards17-19

Figure 8.

The discussion between Yellow card 16 and the speaker stopped. You give the floor at Yellow card 17 to ask a question. As the discussion goes on between the speaker and Yellow card 17, again a Yellow card is raised (There is still energy in the group), Yellow card 18. The situation is now as follow in your facilitators note book. See figure 9.

Fig9_YellowCards-Complete

Figure 9.

The discussion between Yellow card 17 and the speaker stopped. You give the floor at Yellow card 18 to ask a question. This discussion stops with no follow up cards. You give the floor at Yellow card 19 on the same sub-thread. Also this discussion stops with no follow up cards. With this, the discussion on the sub-thread started by Yellow card 2 ends. You are now back to the main-thread, where you have two follow up cards, Yellow cards 20 and 21.

You ask Yellow card 20 to ask a question. Yellow card 20 passes. You give the floor at Yellow card 21 on the same thread. After a while the, discussion between Yellow card 21 and the speaker stopped.

A sigh of relief. The discussion on this thread comes to an end. Some had working finally finished.

I used unique Yellow card numbers from 1 to 21 to make the discussion easy to follow. I mentioned them in sequence. In a real situation, one person can ask questions in different sub-threads. Another person is just listening and never ask a question.

As you have read this facilitation story, I must say that this is not a made up situation, but a real facilitation session experienced during DEWT 4. You can find my original notes below in fig 10. The number of the main thread is ‘8’.

Fig10_OriginalNotes

Figure 10.

My thanks go to the DEWT4 audience (Angela van Son, Ard Kramer, Arjen Verweij, Bart Broekman, Bernd Beersma, Bryan Bakker, Daniël Wiersma, Duncan Nisbet, Eddy Bruin, Huib Schoots, Jean-Paul Varwijk, Jeanne Hofmans, Jeroen Mengerink, Joep Schuurkes, Joris Meerts, Jurian van de Laar, Kristoffer Nordström, Markus Gärtner, Pascal Dufour, Philip Hoeben, Ray Oei, Richard Scholtes, Rob van Steenbergen, Ruud Cox, Wim Heemskerk and Zeger van Hese) for this awesome experience.

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. Katrina says:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s interesting because this is not usually how I treat yellow cards when I facilitate. I like the idea of following the discussion thread, but perhaps the reason that yellow card #20 withdrew was that so much time had elapsed between when they had a thought to share and when they were called upon to express it? I’m also wondering how you deal with repeat offenders, where the same person throws up a yellow card multiple times on the same thread. Or do you use a rule that you can only contribute once to a thread?

    1. Katrina,

      Thanks for your reaction.

      I treat the Yellow card as a question/reaction to a discussion on that moment, so I follow the discussion. Correct that Yellow card #20 withdrew because of the time waiting (I assume). In another talk at DEWT-4, I had the situation that the 3 three Yellow cards raised after the Green card, each Yellow card ended up in several subthreads.

      “a yellow card multiple times on the same thread” …. Perhaps this person is very excited to talk about the ongoing thread and sub-threads. I let this person participate, even if the yellow card is raised muliple times.

      “do you use a rule that you can only contribute once to a thread?” No, that would kill the vibe and energy in the discussion

  2. Kim Engel says:

    Wow. At next month’s Auckland Testers Meetup I’m going to take facilitation to the next level! Thanks for the tips, keep them coming 🙂

    At a large conference like DEWT4 do you also use the orange Like cards?

    1. Kim,

      Thanks for your response. Let me know how it goes at the Auckland Testers Meetup next month. I like to hear your experiences.

      About the Orange card, we did not use it at DEWT-4. There are some mixed thoughts/feelings about it.

  3. Kim Engel says:

    I’ve only seen the orange cards used once. Audience ~15 people and the presenter was not very comfortable with presenting (although he did a great job). He found the cards very encouraging.
    I can imagine that for a seasoned presenter or a larger crowd they’d just be distracting.. Just curious what others thought.

  4. Paul Holland says:

    Well said, my young apprentice – or I should say my new young “master”!
    A great detailed explanation on how to handle a complicated open season. I have a couple of points to add:
    1. In my note book, I cross out the numbers (although at small conferences I always use names and not numbers) as I call upon the participants. I find that really helps me follow the threads and makes it more difficult to skip a card by accident. I think it would also help to follow your discussion above if you updated your images with a line through the cards that had been called upon.
    2. As a facilitator you can always exercise your power to “freeze the stack” to allow yourself to unwind the stack back down to the first or second sub-level. I have only twice had to do this (once when I reached the 5th level deep and once at the 6th level). If you are at risk of losing track then it is much better to stop taking new cards until you are back into a shallow stack. At that point the disruption to the flow will be minimal as the flow as you unwind isn’t typically great anyway.

    I agree with your answers to Katrina. I have never heard of limiting the number of times a participant can hold up a card. That sounds incredibly limiting to the discussion. That being said that there is one excellent way to lower the ability of one person dominating the discussion. Whenever you have a choice of calling upon one of multiple cards then you select the more quiet people first and the frequent participants last. Essentially, the more you talk, the longer it takes to call on you. This works well – especially when you tell them that is the impact.

    Excellent post Simon!!! (or Peter – whatever 🙂 )

    1. Thank you, Sensei. Your remarks are as always wise and informative. It has been an honor to be your apprentice (and I still will be)

  5. Nice write up! The images really help me to understand what is going on in your book – I’m glad I didn’t have to refer back to your shorthand 🙂

    It’s worth me mentioning that I was blissfully unaware of the complexities going on in Simon/Peters little black book.

    The LAWST style of facilitation really allowed me to field questions & hold conversations with the group without me feeling overwhelmed or under pressure (apart from some tricky questions).

    It is testament to the facilitator how freely the conversation flowed between the presenter & the group, as well as between the group members as well.

    Actually, whilst I think on are you able to say how much extra complication of allowing group members to question other group members added to the facilitation?

    Thanks for being the facilitator at 100% of my presentations Simon – I feel a lot safer in your company.

    Duncs

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