In order to know where your group is in the flow of its journey toward its aims, it is helpful to have at the same time a big picture of where you are in the process, and the specific procedures that you are using at the moment. Most of us have challenges keeping both of these in our mind at the same time. When you do have both in mind, you can adapt and vary your processes to the group needs while keeping the session on time.

A planning tool that can really help is the “Symphony Session Plan” worksheet. The inspiration for this format was the structure of a classical music symphony with 3 “movements”, plus an introduction and conclusion. It is also the same format as a 3-act play. Three “acts” or “movements” tend to mirror our experience of a complete event.

This worksheet is laid out in landscape form so that the whole session is visible at once. Each section then has its own column with the details of the procedures and the estimated time it will take at the bottom of the column. This is a very useful format for a single-topic meeting. Different facilitation activities can be used in each movement. It even works well with Sam Kaner’s “divergence-groan zone-convergence” model – Divergence activities in Movement 1, Groan Zone in movement 2, Convergence activities in movement 3.

A colleague took this tool and added some structure for a multi-topic meeting like a board or staff meeting. He added “Quick items” to describe Movement 1, “Major Items” for Movement 2, and “Minor Items” for Movement 3. If this is used, the group experiences momentum in Movement 1 with the “quick items”, time to dig down in Movement 2 with the one or two major items that need the most time, and the ability to postpone minor items in Movement 3 if the major items go overtime.

I like to put the amount of time the section will take as well as the actual clock time for each part of the session. That way I can glance at my plan and the clock and immediately see if we are on time.

Having this kind of planning form in front of the facilitator allows the facilitator to know where there are options to adapt the timing and flow to meet the group’s needs.

An example of an actual event plan:

This planning tool is included in the manuals for the courses Meetings that Work and Art and Science of Participation.

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