Asking questions is easy. Being effective is the challenge

Is asking questions easy_v2

In sales, customer service or any other customer facing role, conversations need to be planned. To be clear, the conversation should feel spontaneous and natural; it should also follow a structure and some principles to maximize the probability of success.

Success, specifically when it comes to learning the needs of your customers, means:

  • Understanding the customer’s needs to be able to position your products or services effectively and to have the information to close the sale
  • Having the information to avoid, anticipate or mitigate risks and to overcome objections
  • Ensuring both parties have met their goals

Some of the bad habits present when learning customers’ needs

  • We make assumptions about customers and don’t ask questions we should
  • We ask questions as they come to our mind and not in a structured way
  • We ask questions focused on us and not them (e.g., do you need product X?)
  • We start with close ended questions and not by opening the conversation to learn more
  • We interpret silence as an objection. We go to the next question or assume a negative response
  • We ask questions we already have answers to because we didn’t listen well or take notes
  • We ask questions without a purpose
  • We give our customers control of the conversation as soon as they interrupt or ask something
  • We focus only on what the customer asked for and not on understanding all of their needs
  • We’re eager to make an offer even if we don’t have all the information we need

These bad habits result in customers’ loss of trust and waste of time. More importantly, it limits our ability to fully understand our customers’ needs.

To ensure we are enroute to success, we propose nine principles that will maximize the probability of success for our customers, our organizations and us.

The learning needs principles

1) Start with open ended questions, and then ask closed ended ones as needed

  • Get customers talking to learn more about them. Let them talk and feel comfortable with you and the conversation
  • Opening the conversation will typically limit the number of questions you need to ask
  • When your first question is not understood, try again. Rephrase the question, keep it open and avoid the temptation of asking an easy close ended question
  • Open ended questions start with what, how, tell me more, explain to me, walk me through, how do you, etc. They can’t be responded with a Yes, No, or a number
  • Use close ended questions to get details or confirmation of what you heard. Also to get customers talking if they don’t respond to several open ended questions

2) Ask about all lines of questioning

  • Lines of questioning can be understood as lines of business, the use customers will give to your products or services or the most important features that customers look for (e.g., sound and video for a TV)
  • For B2B start by asking a question or two to understand the business overall (e.g., what they do, how they do, what their work flow is like, processes, lay out). Use the questions that will help you learn the most about the business. This will get the customer talking and help you build rapport. It will also help you make better questions and limit the number of questions you need to ask
  • Structure the lines of questioning in a logical way starting with the area the customer expressed interest about. Avoid jumping back and forth between lines of questioning and make sure the conversation flows naturally but following a structure
  • Prevent the customer from having to visit/call you again to get more information by asking about all the needs they have, including ancillary products and services (if part of your offering)
  • Ask about the different pain points or specific needs related to the lines of questioning. Not only in the use of the product itself but even more importantly in how that impacts the user or the business (in B2B)

3) Ask about the different users and about the decision-making process (B2B)

  • Make sure you understand the needs of all the people who are going to use the services or that are going to be impacted by its use. In B2C this could include significant others, children, parents, roommates, grandparents or others. In B2B this includes co-workers, leadership, clients, suppliers and others. We frequently focus on the needs of the people who we’re talking to, which doesn’t necessarily cover others’ needs
  • Understand the different ways in which the products and services are going to be used by the people above. For B2B learn also about the impact the use will have to their work
  • For B2B focus on understanding the decision-making process and the role that different people play in the process (including the person you are talking to). No matter who you’re talking to (even if they are not the decision maker), they are still a great source of information about needs but to advance in your goal you need to understand people and process
  • Ask about the different pain points or specific needs attached to the different users or stakeholders. Not only in the use of the product itself but even more importantly in how that impacts the user or business (in B2B). Be thorough in understanding pain points, especially in B2B these should include strategic, operational and financial pain points and others relevant to the business

4) Don’t make assumptions

  • The way we think about our potential customers or clients is shaped by our past interactions with clients or customers. This is dangerous because, sometimes unconsciously, we start profiling our customers to the point where “we know what their needs are” without even asking. The result, we don’t ask questions about certain areas of interest because “we know” they won’t be interested and we limit our opportunities
  • To be more clear, assumptions about our customers limit our understanding of them and their needs and therefore limit our opportunities to satisfy them

5) Refrain from making an offer until you have all the information you need

  • Wait until you have a comprehensive understanding of the customer before making an offer to ensure it’s the right one
  • Offering something in the middle of a conversation and then going back to asking questions to understand needs will confuse you and the customer
  • As soon as we offer something the conversation becomes about the offer and its price and not about the customers’ needs

6) Be tenacious when they interrupt to say or ask something, regain control of the conversation

  • Make sure you let the customer know that you are listening to them by acknowledging what they did, said or asked
  • Let them know why you need to continue learning their needs (i.e., to provide a comprehensive solution or answer to their question and needs) and ask for their OK to keep focused on learning needs
  • If you have to take care of the customer’s question immediately then do so and frame it as a partial answer/ offer/explanation. Attempt to be brief, while answering the customer’s question
  • Then ask a question of your own to get back control of the conversation


7) Ask questions with a purpose

  • Have a goal for every question you ask, it will show the customer you value their time and help you be more efficient
  • Ask as many questions as you need and as little as possible. It’s not about a number of questions but about the right questions to understand the customer’s needs
  • Good questions will add to the trust the customer has on you, bad ones will take away from it

8) Silence? Wait!

  • During a conversation, silence typically means someone is thinking
  • It doesn’t mean they don’t understand or dislike your question or you, therefore, don’t get defensive. Give customers the time they need to think about it
  • I recently read that 8 seconds is the average time a person takes to think about a question and start answering to it. Time yourself being quiet for 8 seconds right now, realize it feels like a lot when in silence. Learn to be comfortable with it
  • Past the 8 seconds you can either repeat the question with a slightly different phrasing or clarify what the question is asking. What you shouldn’t do is answer your own question or abandon the question and move to the next one just because a short silence made you nervous

9) Record the information

  • Take notes of customers’ needs whenever possible during the conversation. Your focus should still be in listening (and not on taking notes). The more and better notes you have, the better prepared you will be
  • Have a template to take notes that will help you structure the conversation and help you identify areas of questioning or people/users/stakeholders whose needs and pain points you need to understand

The above principles are guidelines that need to be tailored to the needs of each business. Changes should be made depending on the type of products and services that are offered, on the type of clients (e.g., B2C, SMB, Enterprise, etc.) and on the channel (e.g., inside sales, field sales, retail).

What remains clear is that without a well-defined structure for the conversation, and a learning process that helps your team members learn and adopt the changes to the way they have been doing things, many of the old sales habits will continue to live in your organization, limiting its growth.


Preparation is 50% of success in facilitation



Six years ago, prior to leaving the strategy consulting firm I was working for and to deciding to start my own business, I was aggressively networking in search of opportunities in the corporate world. After several attempts, I finally scheduled a call with a senior executive in Silicon Valley.  I was pretty confident in my abilities and my resume was strong. I was ready to introduce myself, showcase my strengths and had strong questions ready. I was going to kill it.

I got schooled. Lack of real preparation resulted in failure. I have to be thankful for the experience though, it taught me a few lessons:

  • Preparation is 50% of the success of any meeting, conversation, training, etc.
  • Confidence in yourself is key but it won’t stand in for preparation
  • Preparation is much more than knowing what you want to say and ask
  • ‘Winging-it’ sometimes works (let’s be honest) but unfortunately not when it matters, remember Murphy’s Law?

In facilitation, being well prepared will help you achieve your goal of improving your team’s performance by:

  • Gaining and maintaining the trust of your audience, contributing to a long-lasting relationship
  • Ensuring that you engage, motivate and add value to your team
  • Setting the standard of preparation and execution for the team
  • Allowing you to focus on using your emotional intelligence and engaging on the conversation (given that you don’t need to focus on anything else, you’re ready)

Even though today’s post is focused on preparing for huddle facilitation [1], the content applies to other type of interactions. This includes preparing for meetings, interviews, public speaking and others.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote the post Nine things great facilitators do well. On the post I mentioned three things that need to exist as a precondition to success in facilitation: trust, a shared vision and preparation.

So, what does it take to be prepared?

1) Know you audience

There are many questions that need to be answered prior to the interaction. Here are some of them:

  • Who is your audience?  What do they do? What is their background?
  • What are their names and positions within the organization?
  • What are they looking to achieve?
  • What have they done or tried in the past and how has it worked?
  • What do they think about the learning plan? What needs to be included and not?
  • What behaviors or habits need to be unlearned so that they can learn the new behaviors?
  • What ‘keeps them up at night’?

2) Be an expert on the content and how you’re going to facilitate it

As a facilitator you need to be an expert on the content you are going to facilitate and on the process and structure that you’re going to use to introduce the learning. Here are some questions you need to be able to answer prior to the huddle:

  • What’s the goal of the session or conversation?
  • What are the agenda and timing for the session?
  • What are the main points you are going to make?
  • What evidence is there to support the points you make?
  • What are the questions that you are going to ask and how are you going to ask them?
  • What are the answers that you expect (so that you can lead the conversation towards them)?
  • How do you know if you’re progressing well or if you achieve your goal in the session?
  • What obstacles do you expect and how are you going to overcome them?  (e.g., mindsets, current habits, interruptions, objections, focus on the exceptions, team feuds)
  • What ice breakers or energizers are you going to use in case they are needed?
  • What tools are you going to use to be more effective?
  • What activities or exercises are you going to include? How are they supporting the main points?

There are occasions when expert facilitators are asked to lead sessions with content in which they are not experts. In our opinion, even if it is not an ideal situation, this can be done successfully. In those cases it is important to:

  • Study to have a minimum understanding of the topic, questions to be asked, the sought-after conclusions, etc.
  • Have a content expert in the room who can answer questions that the team is not able to solve and to validate the conclusions that are reached from the team discussion
  • Know what the answers you expect are (so that you can lead the conversation towards them)

3) Practice, practice and practice some more

You might know your audience, the content and the structure of the session but if you’re not able to facilitate the session properly then it’s not of much use.

You should practice even when you are going to facilitate content that you have already facilitated in the past. Here are some ideas on how to do it:

  • Study the different parts of the huddle, Don’t just read through, study part by part – you will discover areas that you need to think through a bit more
  • Rewrite the huddle from scratch on a new piece of paper that you can use as a job aid during the actual session. This will help you think through things again and have clarity on the goal, the main points, the questions, etc.
  • Have a dry run for the huddle in front of your peers or your Managers, ask for feedback and use it to improve the huddle content or delivery. A full dry run might not be possible for every huddle (especially in the case where they are very frequent), in those cases try to dry run at least the part that you think will be most challenging
  • Practice for challenging situations. Ask the people observing the dry run to take the role of participants and act both the easy and the difficult situations (they both pose their own kind of challenges). Challenges should include someone refusing to try an approach, someone disagreeing with it, a conversation that goes fast because it seems that everyone gets it (but they really don’t), people distracted, people interrupting, participants not engaging, participants wanting to talk all the time and others you foresee

4) Ensure logistics are in place

It would be a shame if after all the trouble you have gone through understanding your audience, being an expert on the content and on the structure of the session, and practicing all goes wrong because of logistics.

Some of the things to ensure are done before you facilitate a huddle:

  • Space. Confirm room for the huddle has been reserved and that enough time has been allowed for setup at the beginning and for debriefing and feedback at the end of the session. Also look at the layout of the room so it will conducive to sharing and learning (e.g., U-shaped seating, everyone able to see visuals)
  • Participants. Ensure calendar invitations have been sent in advance, that all approvals required have been provided, and that participants are reminded on the day of the huddle. All this to ensure that participants are where they need to be, and on time. This includes leadership or peer support required
  • Tools and materials. Make sure all the tools required for the huddle are in place. This includes flip charts, white boards and markers, projector, lap top, job aids, candy, pens & notebooks, poster with huddle ground rules, poster to park topics as needed and others. Also, ensure that the audio-visual equipment works well ahead of time

Last thing, prior to the huddle make sure you do something to warm up and get into ‘the zone’. Think about professional athletes, they don’t go out cold and play, they warm up. Do the same. For me, it’s a combination of air-boxing and vocal warm-ups. I’ve seen other people do it with power-posing, other physical exercises, meditation, a quick speech and even singing. Find what works for you and do it, it will improve your performance.

Again, 50% of the success of a huddle lies in preparation. That said, it’s only 50% if you are well prepared. Lack of preparation can easily be responsible for 100% of the failure.

What other things should you do to prepare?


[1] A huddle is a short, recurring training session that is focused on building skills, one well-defined topic at a time. These sessions are led by team leaders (e.g., supervisors) and have a limited number of participants. For more about huddles and how to make them strong read this post.



Guillermo Herbozo is a Principal at Lima Implementation Associates (LIMA) a strategy implementation firm that works with clients to improve team effectiveness. He is also an experienced coach, facilitator and public speaker.

LIMA focuses on customer facing functions such as sales, customer service, retention, and others. It works with different channels (e.g., retail, inbound and outbound call centers, field sales, web & chat teams, B2B and B2C) and industries, mainly telecommunications and financial services.

LIMA’s approach is based on the belief that internal leaders (Supervisors and Managers) should be the key change makers within an organization. Therefore focuses on building the capabilities of team leaders while ensuring that their teams’ effectiveness is improving. To do this LIMA works on introducing a different kind of training and coaching. It also supports clients in working through other factors that impact change (e.g., metrics, reporting, leadership engagement, accountability, culture, compensation).

Guillermo can be contacted at:

More about LIMA:

How should you start a customer conversation to be successful?



Hello1Most conversations, whether you’re in sales, customer service, retention or any other customer facing position, start with a greeting. Then they move along until close and follow up.

Now, how often do you review the customer conversation practices in your organization to see how they can be improved? This post is an invitation to do precisely that. Its focus will be reviewing best practices on the start of the conversation.

Because of the different channels (e.g., call centers, retail, field), functions (e.g., sales, retention, customer service) and types of customers (e.g., B2B, B2C) it’s impossible to have just one solution. We will focus on a list of things to consider when defining how you’re going to open an inbound customer conversation. This is, an interaction where the customer came to us (called, walked in the store or approached us).

Let’s start with the goal. What is it we’re looking for in the first 20-30 seconds of the conversation? Start building a trust-based relationship that convinces the customer they have the right person and that persuades them to let you lead the conversation to get to the best outcome.

Now let’s dive in. How should you start a customer conversation to be successful?

1) Greet the customer

  • Say hello to the customer in a natural way. Thank them for visiting, calling or stopping by. Use simple words (e.g., good morning, thank you for calling)
  • Tell them who you represent, the organization you are a part of. There’s a brand and support behind you, leverage it. It also helps with those that call or visit the wrong place (sounds funny but we’ve all seen them)
  • Tell them your name. Not only is it a basic standard to introduce yourself but it starts making the conversation personal
  • Ask the customer’s name and use it immediately. It makes it more personal and shows that you’re truly interested in them, that you’re paying attention
  • Offer to help it helps open the conversation in a way that is focused on them
  • Speak slowly and clearly, ensure customers understand you
  • Make sure your body language and your voice is reflective of your positive and engaging attitude (e.g., a courteous smile, looking in the eyes, body tilted slightly forward). Your attitude will be critical in setting the tone of the conversation both in person and through the phone

Watch out: Many people think the greeting is not an important part of the conversation and therefore say it as fast as they can so they can “get to the real stuff”. Wrong. Take your time. Your quest to gain their trust just started, and you might blow it

An example: “Good morning! Welcome to X. My name is Y. May I ask what your name is?  Hi Z, how can I help you today?”

2) Show the customer you’re listening and start gaining their trust

  • Repeat back what the customer says (as they answer your opening question). Be specific. This will show the customer that you’re listening, that you’re focused on them. It’s critical to differentiate yourself from others that might have not listened before. Also tells the customer that you understand what they came in for
  • Show empathy to your customer. This is something that is especially important when there is emotion in the customer, whether positive or negative. It will help humanize you in front of the customer; they will realize that you’re a real good and caring person. Showing empathy might be needed earlier on in the call. Sometimes it’s even necessary to show it during the greeting. Adjust as needed
  • Relate to your customer’s situation. This will, along with empathy, let them know you are really focused on them. More importantly, it will show that you really understand their perspective. You can leverage your own experience or your experience with other customers. If you can’t do it in an honest way then don’t
  • Take ownership. This is even more important when the customer is coming with some kind of issue or concern. Acknowledge the issue they have had and assure them that the “buck stops here”. That you are going to take care of them. Repeat your name to show that you are willing to be kept accountable for the results of the conversation
  • Address all people with respect and excitement. Sometimes we discover early on that the person calling is not the decision maker. Remember they might be a key influencer or a gate keeper. Also, even if it’s not the decision maker, this person knows more about the needs of the family or business than we do

Watch out: When you repeat back customers’ words, be careful to avoid words that might limit the conversation. (e.g., disconnect, lower price, cancel, just, complain). Also, empathizing and relating to the customer are great practices if they are done in an honest way. Lastly, apologize when you or someone in your organization failed the customer. That said; avoid the phrase “I apologize” as a standard response. It puts blame on us and sometimes we don’t have it (and doesn’t add any value)

A cumulative example: “Good morning! Welcome to X. My name is Y. May I ask what your name is?  Hi Z, how can I help you today?” “I’ll be glad to help you make changes to your account. I am sorry that you have been transferred around, those are not our standards and I’m sorry we failed. Again, my name is Y and I will make sure we take the steps we need during this conversation so this becomes a positive experience”

3) Gain control of the customer conversation

  • Gain explicit permission of your customer to lead the conversation, despite them having initiated the conversation (by calling or approaching us). This will allow you to structure the conversation in a way that is most effective to find the customer’s needs and satisfy them. It will also let the customer know exactly what will happen next, it well set the expectation for needs exploration
  • Always remember you’re the expert on your products and services, on having a customer conversation and soon on their needs
  • To gain control of the conversation:
  • Ask permission to ask questions. Get the customer’s permission to move forward, to start asking questions so that you can understand their needs. This step will give you your first yes of the conversation
  • Tell them how they’re going to benefit with your questions. WIIFM (what’s in it for me – in this case for them). Relate it to their reason for calling but also keep it open so that you can explore all needs openly

Watch out: Resist the urge to get more information about the customer (e.g., address, account number, etc.). Time will come for that but wait until you have have gained their initial trust and buy-in. Don’t just ask permission to ask questions, if you don’t give them the “why” they might say no. Obstacles (e.g., customers interrupting, talking without pause) shouldn’t be able to derail you from maintaining the structure of the conversation, prepare for them

A cumulative example: “Good morning! Welcome to X. My name is Y. May I ask what your name is?  Hi Z, how can I help you today?” “I’ll be glad to help you make changes to your account. I am sorry that you have been transferred around, those are not our standards and I’m sorry we failed. Again, my name is Y and I will make sure we take the steps we need during this conversation so this becomes a positive experience” “So that we can take care of your needs today, may I ask you a few questions?”

Here are some of the reactions we’ve heard before: “I already have something that works well”, “It’s too long”, “Customers will interrupt and will think parts of this are a waste of time”, my favorite: “It’s not going to work, especially the part where you ask permission to ask questions”

Please consider:

  • Sometimes trying something different will help you realize there is opportunity to improve your own ways
  • We have seen great results with these components in different industries and functions at Fortune 500 companies
  • It just takes a few seconds. Write it down. Try it, practice it, and time yourself. It will still be a matter of seconds. Not the first few times perhaps but soon thereafter
  • If you let the customer lead the conversation it will likely end where they want

That said, you should only implement things you believe in or at a minimum those you’re willing to give an honest shot. Otherwise, no matter how good it sounds, it won’t work.

Please share your thoughts or adds in the comments section. Just like you, I’m always looking to learn more.



Guillermo Herbozo is a Principal at Lima Implementation Associates (LIMA) a strategy implementation firm that works with clients to improve team effectiveness. He is also an experienced coach, facilitator and public speaker.

LIMA focuses on customer facing functions such as sales, customer service, retention, and others. It works with different channels (e.g., retail, inbound and outbound call centers, field sales, web & chat teams, B2B and B2C) and industries, mainly telecommunications and financial services.

LIMA’s approach is based on the belief that internal leaders (Supervisors and Managers) should be the key change makers within an organization. Therefore focuses on building the capabilities of team leaders while ensuring that their teams’ effectiveness is improving. To do this LIMA works on introducing a different kind of training and coaching. It also supports clients in working through other factors that impact change (e.g., metrics, reporting, leadership engagement, accountability, culture, compensation).

Guillermo can be contacted at:
More about LIMA:


No pares_v2




Lo de Piura y los huaicos no ha terminado. Ya nos hicimos presentes, ahora toca ayudar a que se mantengan los esfuerzos. Si bien las cosas van a regresar a la normalidad pronto, queda mucho por hacer en el corto y en el largo plazo, para ayudar a los damnificados de esta tragedia y para prevenir futuras desgracias.

Hoy sin embargo siento, de manera ingenua lo admito, que hemos cambiado como país. Aquella frase de “el peor enemigo de un peruano es otro peruano” parece haber sido sustituida por #unasolafuerza. Vamos que hasta le ganamos a Uruguay anoche y todos éramos uno, desde donde estuviéramos.

Ahora bien, esta oportunidad que tenemos hoy hay que aprovecharla. Todos.

A PPK y a cada uno de sus Ministros: #NoPares

Han demostrado que pueden liderar. Ciertamente la tragedia del Niño Costero les dio la oportunidad. Pero para quienes dudábamos del liderazgo de este gobierno, hoy hay un cambio. Me atrevo a decir que incluso para quienes mantenían la convicción en el liderazgo de PPK y sus ministros ha habido también un cambio. Ahora hay que mantenerlo.

  • Sigan saliendo a las calles, todos los días. Que la gente vea como trabajan y las cosas que logran. Los peruanos nos ilusionamos con facilidad pero necesitamos ver el esfuerzo. Hay quienes dicen que ese no es el trabajo del Presidente o de los Ministros. Se equivocan. Especialmente cuando el Gobierno tiene el Congreso en contra es indispensable mantener el apoyo de la población. Que no le resulte popular a la oposición meterle cabe al Perú
  • Desháganse de las demás Eufrosinas en el Estado, sin dilaciones ni miramientos. No esperen que Panorama les saque la siguiente nota. No es la primera ni será la ultima
  • No desaprovechen la otra gran oportunidad. El tema Odebrecht. Aborden el tema, de inmediato, no esperen un día más. Apoyen al Poder Judicial en todo lo que sea necesario y exijan celeridad en todos los procesos. Que sus acciones sean visibles. Ya empezaron las voces a decir que esto se va a pasar por agua tibia. Esta percepción de algunos convence a muchos y trae frustración y un sentir de “más de lo mismo” que no suma
  • Si no lo han hecho todavía, tengan una unidad de seguimiento a proyectos especiales (algo así como el Prime Minister Delivery Unit que instauró Tony Blair y que muchos líderes mundiales han seguido). Esto puede hacerse en PCM y una versión reducida en algunos Ministerios

A cada uno de los peruanos: #NoPares

  • Que la unión continúe. Ayudemos a que nuestros hijos entiendan que la compasión, la empatía y la solidaridad se pueden ejercer a diario, que no hay que esperar una tragedia como la que nos tocó para ayudar a quienes viven circunstancias desafortunadas. Que se vuelva una actividad regular para todas las familias (¿semanal? ¿mensual?). ¡Imagínense el cambio que eso traería!
  • Que ese foco en el bien común sirva también para cambiar algunos de nuestros hábitos. Respetemos las reglas de tránsito. Cedámosle el paso a los peatones. Sí , a pesar de que nos toque claxon el de atrás y de que nos demoremos 10 minutos más en llegar a nuestro destino
  • Seamos más equitativos con quienes trabajan en casa. Que la ley (que muchos no respetan todavía) sea un mínimo pero que todos tratemos de hacer más
  • Premiemos a los políticos que más hacen y no a los que más joden. Es cierto que hay una labor importante y necesaria de fiscalización y de balance de poderes. Sin embargo con ese cuento nadie hace nada. Basta ya!
  • Seamos ciudadanos más activos. Reclamemos más y tomemos acciones cuando veamos que algo no funciona bien. Es la única manera de mantener a nuestras autoridades enfocadas en lo que más nos importa

Dije al inicio que hemos cambiado como país. Claramente un exceso de emoción pero ahí queda. Lo que sí está claro es que estamos en una encrucijada que representa una gran oportunidad para el país:

  • La corrupción al más alto nivel ha sido nuevamente evidenciada
  • Parte del país ha sido destruido y miles lo han perdido todo por la desidia de nuestras autoridades y por nuestra irresponsabilidad al elegirlos y no hacerlos responsables
  • Las autoridades actuales han demostrado que pueden liderar
  • Los peruanos nos hemos unido por una sola causa, con excepciones claro, pero en general hoy el Perú parece estar primero

Hay pasos concretos que cada uno de nosotros puede tomar. Lo que suceda ahora depende de ti, #NoPares

Nine things great facilitators do


In the context of a huddle, there are several things great facilitators do. As a reminder, we define a huddle as a short, recurring training session that is focused on building skills, one well-defined topic at a time. These sessions are led by team leaders (e.g., supervisors) and have a limited number of participants. For more about huddles and how to make them strong read this post.

The topic of facilitation warrants a book (or more). You will notice that some of the basics are not included here (e.g., look at participants eyes, move deliberately). Our goal is to share what we believe are game changers in facilitation of huddles and not to be exhaustive about what you should do when facilitating one.

Also, team leaders need to do three things[1] prior to the start of huddles. Results will be curtailed without them.

  • Have the team’s trust
  • Have a clear vision for the team (and have shared it with the team)
  • Be prepared (50% of the success of the huddle happens before the huddle)

Now, let’s dive in: What are nine things great huddle facilitators do?

1. Set expectations

  • Let all participants know, at the start of the huddle what the expectations are. This includes a brief discussion of the agenda for the huddle, what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. It will make the conversation more open and direct
  • If you set an expectation support your team by keeping them accountable

2. Engage your audience

  • Know participants’ names and use them throughout the huddle. It will encourage active engagement
  • Ensure all participate. Learning skyrockets when participants think things through, vocalize their thoughts and practice skills. Think about how much you learned in those classes, back in school, where you just sat without participating
  • Cold call participants. Ask them to build on each other’s points and reach the best conclusion possible (e.g., Charles, what does X mean? Dawn, what else does it mean? Melissa, from what Dawn said, why is it important to include X? Why else, Joe? How would that sound Peter? What did you like about what Peter just did Pauline? What else did you like Mary? Peter is there something you would’ve changed if you had to do it again? Monica, is there anything you think could’ve been done differently? – we just included 8 participants in one single point that could take as little as 2-3 minutes, or more of course)
  • Be creative and engage people differently, especially when cold calling doesn’t work for some. An alternative: let a participant know, ahead of time, that you’re going to call on them for a specific topic. This allows them to prepare and succeed. After a while they will start being okay with cold calling

3. Account for different learning styles

  • According to a study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian[2], effective communication is less about word choice and more about vocal (e.g., tone, pace, volume, pause, enunciation) and visual communication (e.g., body language, gestures, posture). Keep this in mind during facilitation
  • Use analogies and tell stories. People understand and learn much better when they can relate (e.g., the importance of having goals present – I got in my car the other day and started driving. I ended up at my son’s preschool because I usually drive him there every morning. It was Saturday and I was going to get breakfast. Sometimes we act with our inner auto-pilot instead of thinking where we are going)
  • Make sure that your huddle is supported by tools and dynamics that cater to different learning styles (e.g., visual, verbal, aural, individual and group thinking, physical exercises, practice and role plays, logical and emotional arguments[3])

4. Balance asking vs telling (aiming to be heavier on the asking)

  • The ideal is to have participants self-discover the answers. It will help each participant learn more. Participants have best practices to share, let them spark the debate
  • Temper the amounts of asking and telling throughout the huddle as needed. Whether it’s high asking and low telling, low asking and high telling will depend on whether the discussion will help meet the goal of the huddle (e.g., if you ask a question and the discussion is going as per your plans step back. If it’s not, step in and ask another question. If there is a point that you need to make that is not surfacing then take control and become “the expert”, do the telling and then ask a question again)
  • When you receive a good question send it back to the team. It will make them think about it and self-discover. Then reinforce, add or summarize. It is also a good trick to use while you are formulating the best answer

5. Show passion, energy and maintain the huddle positive

  • Passion is contagious. If the team sees that you truly believe in the message they are more likely to buy-in. More importantly, if the team sees that you’re passionate about helping them grow you will be more effective
  • Energy often goes hand in hand with passion. Make sure that you are -within your own style- giving your best in terms of how points 2-4 above are being delivered. Stretch yourself. Remember you are asking your team to do the same
  • Your energy level will set the bar for participants. Something we hear often is “the afternoon huddle is low energy because it’s after lunch”. Our typical response: “energy in the huddle depends on the facilitator regardless of the circumstances”. That said, keep in mind the circumstances and avoid, anticipate or mitigate potential obstacles
  • Maintain the huddle environment positive and risk free. More (and more honest) participation will follow (e.g., ensure perspectives are not attacked, ask participants to focus on positives first)

6. Listen actively

  • Listen and show that you are listening. Do this by acknowledging, repeating back, reinforcing or by asking a follow up question to what someone said. Be careful with validating things that might not be in agreement with the huddle
  • Pay close attention to verbal and non-verbal cues from participants and act on the feedback
  • When you need to park the conversation, let the team know why and when you’re getting back to the topic (and then get back)

7. Be humble and open

  • Understand it all comes down to perspectives. Being the facilitator doesn‘t mean that there is one truth only
  • Be open to having a conversation to understand others’ perspectives, even they contradict the purpose of the huddle. There’s a big difference between declaring someone’s approach wrong (polarizes the audience) and acknowledging their perspective and then asking them to try yours
  • If you have to reconsider a position, unless the change is obvious, park the conversation. This will provide you with time to check facts and consult with others
  • Always remember this principle: It’s not about you, it’s about them. As coaches or facilitators we tend to have large personalities, to like the sound of our own voice and usually have pretty clearly defined ideas. Let’s make sure they don’t get in the way of getting the best for our teams

8. Maintain the huddle on track

  • When you start the huddle you should have clarity on where you are headed
  • Align and reinforce throughout the conversation to remain true to the goal. Doing all of the above shouldn’t mean let participants take control of the huddle, that’s your job
  • Avoid, as much as possible, asserting yourself to maintain the huddle on track. It should feel like a natural conversation. That said, if and when you need to assert yourself, you should

9. Ask for feedback and act on it

  • Have an observer feedback template. It should include space for the points above and for the huddle’s agenda. Ask observers (e.g., managers, trainers) to complete it and ask for feedback immediately after the huddle
  • Ask participants for their feedback what do they find useful and why? What would they change and why? What would they include and why?
  • Act on the feedback to improve your huddle facilitation (when two huddles are the same something went wrong)

Please share your own tips for great facilitation.


[1] Each of these three things (trust, a vision that inspires and preparation) merits a post of its own. We will address them soon

[2] Albert Mehrabian, Silent Messages, 1971

[3] We combine several learning models. However, more important than the model is to ensure we are always attentive to the needs of the team we work with

8 principles to get sustainable improvements from training



In our quest to improve team effectiveness in a sustainable way, we have come to a seemingly obvious conclusion. There is no one stand-alone intervention for making change sustainable. Improving team performance requires a combination of efforts and interventions, as discussed in the post Coaching is critical but is not enough.

What has also become clear to us is that if a team wants to obtain and sustain improvement they also need to sustain the behaviors that helped the team grow in the first place. In addition, sustaining results typically requires a steady change in teams’ support structure.

‘Magical’ solutions that offer to transform the skills of your organization in a couple of weeks of training are in extinction (or should be). That doesn’t mean that you should look forward to having an external change agent supporting your team forever. It also doesn’t mean that specialized traditional training wouldn’t still add value to your teams. It means that organizations that are looking to have sustainable results need to equip their team leaders to become strong change agents and that the approach to training needs to change.

In the context of improving team effectiveness, awareness and skill building need to start somewhere (as discussed on the post Getting adult learning in the workplace right). Informally, it happens every day at the workplace between colleagues. Formally, team leaders should jumpstart performance improvement and change through the regular team training sessions we call huddles.


There are 8 principles to maximize the outcome of huddles and to make changes sustainable:

  1. Huddles need to focus on skill building
  • The goal must be clear. These sessions are for building the skills critical to improving team performance. If your team or organization is not going to be fully committed to this goal then it’s better not to start
  • We often hear clients saying “We’re just going to use the next two huddles to address an urgent matter regarding HR policies”. We immediately raise a flag. In our experience once you take that road it’s the end of it. These sessions will not be really protected for building skills purposes. Other meetings should be scheduled for things such as HR policies, new systems, processes, etc., which need to happen. But again, they shouldn’t replace the skill building effort
  1. Huddles need to have learning-practice-coaching
  • There is a fundamental change as compared to traditional training. A typical training session occurs over a few days or even weeks. Huddles cover one small topic at a time
  • The approach to huddles includes learning, practicing and coaching during every session
    • Learning. Done through facilitator-led conversations, best practice sharing, case discussions, videos, etc.
    • Practicing. Done through role playing, listening to recorded client conversations or through other creative exercises. The idea is to get participants to actually execute the behaviors and skills discussed
    • Coaching. Done through observation and feedback from participants and facilitators. Reinforcing the strengths and opportunities observed and drilling down on the what?, why? And how? to maximize learning
  • As discussed in previous posts, huddles should integrate different learning styles (e.g., visual, auditory, verbal) as well as individual and group activities
  1. Huddles need to be recurring
  • Given that huddles contain bits of learning, recurring sessions are critical to be able to cover a topic as a whole
  • The recurring nature of the training responds to the need to maintain and constantly improve the skills of team members. Therefore by design the training (and learning) never ends
  • The frequency of huddles varies depending on industry and function. Huddles can happen 2-3 times per week, once a week, every two weeks, etc. It will ultimately depend on the needs of the team and the organization’s commitment to improving performance
  • As much as possible there shouldn’t be an extended time gap between the learning, the doing and the coaching. Also, because huddles are designed as building blocks and in small bits, it’s important to not set too much time between huddles (to the point that people wouldn’t remember what was discussed on a previous one)
  1. Huddles need to be short
  • As discussed, huddles cover small topics and are therefore short
  • In addition, short sessions help limit the amount of disruption to teams, so that even while they are in training teams can still exceed their goals (as opposed to when they have to take three days off for training)
  • If disruption is not limited sustainability is at risk
  1. Huddles need to be led by team leaders (Supervisors or Managers)
  • When Supervisors and Managers lead huddles their effectiveness increases and their chance of being sustainable also improves. Even if trainers, internal or external, have are more skilled initially at delivering a huddle, leveraging Supervisors or Managers makes sense. Team leaders have a close knowledge of the team -of its strengths and struggles-, their incentives are completely aligned with that of the team, with practice they will improve their skills, and they will be able to make the training sessions a sustainable effort
  • Support from coaches, internal or external, should focus on improving the skills of Managers and Supervisors while they (Managers and Supervisors) are conducting the huddles for their team members
  1. Huddles need to have a limited number of participants
  • Participants should be limited to a number that allows each person to participate several times within the length of the huddle (e.g., in a call center a huddle could have 10-12 participants)
  • It’s a good idea, especially as Supervisors and Managers learn the trade (of being an effective facilitator), to pair up two Supervisors with different skills so they can learn from each other
  • If huddles are combined (meaning that two teams do huddles together), it would be important to split the overall team so that a large number of participants doesn’t make the huddle ineffective
  1. Huddles need to have an adequate space and environment
  • As much as possible, huddles should have a designated room or area that becomes a sort of ‘war room’, a place where skill building happens, where materials and even decorations support learning and that is ready for each session with minimal setup time
  • In terms of atmosphere it is important to maintain a positive environment in the huddles. The huddle should be a risk free environment where everyone is encouraged to speak openly. Also a place that gets people excited through decorations, candy, incentives, and others
  1. Huddles need to be scheduled to minimize disruption
  • As mentioned before huddle should disrupt regular operations minimally. To that extent, the team schedules should be analyzed considering:
  • Overall daily schedules of the team, including days off
  • Peak hours for work and workforce management considerations (e.g., at what time do they receive more calls, or at what time are they more likely to find people in their office, etc.)
  • If there is more than one huddle per day it is convenient to schedule them back to back so that it’s one block for Supervisors and Managers and therefore only one disruption for them (a lengthier but also more efficient one)

The combination of these principles along with structured and well facilitated huddles (posts coming soon) will help that improvements are obtained and maintained in time. For other factors that will help make change happen in a sustainable way read Coaching is critical but is not enough.



Por una cultura de consecuencias… incluidas las AFPs


El país parece estar nuevamente en un estado de desesperanza. En los últimos 15 años no recuerdo haber estado en una situación similar. Ciertamente estamos mejor, en lo económico y en lo social, que hace 15 años. Eso no quita que nuestra sociedad esté angustiada, ad portas de cierta depresión y que ya se observe la desesperanza.

Al margen de con qué perspectiva se quieran ver los problemas (económica, institucional, social, moral), éstos son interminables. La corrupción transversal, la inseguridad, la discriminación racial y cultural, la pobreza, la desigualdad, la educación, la salud, la falta de empatía, la polarización del país, la falta de instituciones, son solamente algunos de los problemas que vivimos.

No vamos a entrar en el facilismo de culpar a PPK por todos los males que nos aquejan, muchos de ellos probablemente desde el inicio de nuestra vida republicana. Lo que sí queda claro es que la papa caliente esta con él y eso, le guste o no a algunos, lo hace responsable o accountable. Esto es, él y su equipo de gobierno deben responder a la sociedad por las acciones que tomen, y por las que no tomen, para sacarnos de esta situación. Sin una ruta clara y acciones concretas la desesperanza solo irá en aumento.

Ante tantos problemas me permito sugerir, como ya ha hecho gente bastante más seria que yo, que empecemos la ruta de la institucionalización del país con el tema de justicia. Existe hoy una oportunidad clara de marcar un nuevo camino. Cuando los peruanos entendamos que el irrespeto a las reglas trae consecuencias, las cosas empezarán a cambiar.

Ahora bien, así como queremos que PPK ponga el pecho, también a los ciudadanos nos toca. A cada uno de nosotros, incluidos los ciudadanos corporativos.

Y a propósito de los corporativos, ¿qué hay de las AFPs?

Los líderes de GYM renunciaron hace unas semanas por el error de asociarse con Odebrecht. Más allá de si las renuncias son parte de una estrategia de comunicación o un verdadero mea culpa, o de si sabían o no de las coimas de Odebrecht. Lo cierto es que hubo un error y eso le costó la cabeza a la plana mayor de la compañía. Sobre el resto, ya el tiempo se encargará de contarnos.

Ayer leía un artículo de Germán Alarco en su blog Herejías Económicas en el Diario Gestión. El artículo hace notar algunas oportunidades para mejorar el sistema privado de pensiones. Al margen de si los argumentos de Alarco  son rebatibles o de si su perspectiva técnica pudiera estar nublada por la ideológica, hay datos objetivos que merecen consecuencias. El más claro, la pérdida de S/. 700 millones de soles.

En el mundo de las inversiones a veces se gana y a veces se pierde. Lo importante es el valor del portafolio en el tiempo. Los S/. 700 millones se recuperarán en el tiempo, eso no se discute (aunque también es cierto que el valor en el tiempo pudo haber sido mayor). Tampoco se discute que la regulación existente no permite a las AFPs diversificar el riesgo de manera óptima, como argumenta el Informe El Comercio-IPE publicado el pasado lunes.

Lo que sí se cuestiona y merece consecuencias claras es la negligencia. No sé cuál hubiera sido la ruta ideal para la desinversión que garantizara que no se afecte a la empresa y por tanto a sus propios intereses (los de las AFPs y sus afiliados). Algo sobre lo que los especialistas podrán ilustrarnos.

Sin embargo, ¿cómo es posible que luego de dos años del destape de Odebrecht las AFPs hayan seguido con ese nivel de inversión en GYM? (o más bien con inversión alguna). ¿Qué consecuencias ha habido para los tres directores independientes cuya función era salvaguardar los intereses de los afiliados? ¿Qué consecuencias habrá para los directivos de @AFPpintegra, @profuturo.AFP, @primaAFP, @afphabitatperu?

Los críticos dirán que con posiciones como ésta se mina la continuidad del sistema. Yo pienso precisamente lo contrario. Creo en el sistema privado de pensiones. Existen muchas oportunidades para mejorarlo pero sigue siendo mucho mejor que la alternativa. Pienso que le hacemos un flaco favor al dejar pasar estas oportunidades sin tomar acciones concretas, inmediatas y visibles. No hacemos otra cosa que dar argumentos a los opositores al sistema, que deben estar relamiéndose.

Por cierto, ¿qué esperan los gremios empresariales para reclamar consecuencias? Leí ayer que Roque Benavides juró como Presidente de la Confiep. Una pregunta para él, ¿vamos a continuar con el ya tradicional “entre bomberos no nos pisamos la manguera” o vamos a apostar por una cultura de consecuencias que beneficie a todos los peruanos?