The Rathole Facilitation Technique

May 04, 2015  ·  Sandy Mamoli

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 (

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.

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

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.

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.

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!

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.

Categories: Retrospectives.