toy_rats2

The Rathole Facilitation Technique

Urban dictionary: rat-hole

To digress in an extensive way. To divert the conversation to a topic that is not only unrelated to the topic at hand, but a topic that will likely have no immediate resolution either.

As a facilitator of a group discussion, a conversation or a workshop session it is important to keep a group focused on the topic at hand but sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a rathole and a valuable sidetrack.
Image by Pixar (http://pixar.wikia.com/Remy)

Image by Pixar (http://pixar.wikia.com/Remy)

Ratholes aren’t necessarily bad. Often they are valuable and important topics but just not the right discussion at the right time.

I have found it helpful to give the group a tool they can use to stop themselves from running down a rathole. That’s where Remy from Ratatouille and a handful of toy rats come in.

The Rathole Facilitation Technique

What you need

1. A handful of little toy rats, one per participant. Toys for cats are often very cute and less expensive than children’s toys.

toy_rats2

 

2.  A flipchart with a picture of Remy the rat (or indeed any rat!)

remy_flipchart

 

How to use it
3) Give every person a toy rat and place the flipchart in the middle of the group, either on the floor or on a table. This works best if the group is sitting in a circle.

 

Linda

The Agile Allliance’s Linda Cook with her favourite rat

4) Ask the group how they know that they’re running into a rathole. Ask them how they want to make sure everyone is aware that this is happening.

Hint: They’re sitting around a poster of Remy the rat holding little toy rats …

 

Usually they decide that a good way to call out a rathole is to throw the toy rats into the circle (A not so good way it to throw the rats at the facilitator). Whenever this happens write the topic on a sticky-note, place it in the rathole and let the group continue with the original conversation.

flipchart_with_rathole

 

5) At appropriate times during the meeting make sure to look at the topics in the rathole and decide if the agenda needs to be updated. Remember, topics in the rathole are often important!

 

rathole

 

What I like about this technique is that the group decides for themselves whether they’re going down a rathole or exploring a valuable avenue. It puts all the decision making power into the hands of the participants and as the facilitator you don’t have to feel like a nag or the meeting police.

 

Sandy Mamoli
3 Comments
  • I was a participant in a workshop Sandy facilitated where she used this technique.

    It is a really useful tool and Sandy a great facilitator.

    Such a simple idea that helped us stay on track and not get lost in the many potential ratholes that emerged in our discussions.

    Thanks for sharing!

    June 12, 2015 at 9:49 pm
  • Keyuri Yagnik
    Reply

    Love the Rathole technique for onsite facilitation. Any suggestions on how to make this work during a virtual meeting?

    October 7, 2015 at 12:55 am

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