What are the moderation techniques

The moderation - what is it?

The following is an example of questions about moderation in those more critical cases in which between superiors and employees should be conveyed.
The explanations follow an article by Thönneßen & Reisdorff (1999).

To the subject

Today, moderation is often understood to mean any form of leading groups, so that the classic function of leadership or leadership also falls under this term. Therefore there is no sharp behavioral profile of a moderator, and in many cases moderation training is nothing other than rhetorical and metaplan-technical Understand training. Any kind of discussion leader, mostly by the inviting participant, is referred to as moderation, whereby value is not necessarily placed on cooperative behavior in the discussion. In practice, what is often referred to under the term Mediation is discussed, added to the moderation.

In the original meaning of the word, moderation actually means "moderation" or "keeping moderation" and has been known since ancient times. In everyday life, the term is shaped by the role of the "television presenter", whose job it is to lead and direct the conversations between different participants in radio or television broadcasts according to certain ideas.

The role of the moderator

The role of moderator has its own Pitfalls. If a moderated session is as productive as it is problem-free, the participants hardly noticed the moderator. If the going gets tough, a lot of experience is required to bring all interests under one roof, to help those involved to achieve a result and, above all, to avoid losing out. The latter is undoubtedly the greatest challenge when moderating a conversation in which employees give their superiors concentrated feedback for the first time.

For the success of the moderation process, the moderator probably has the crucial function: While the group contributes the content, the moderator is for the group Structure of the meeting as well as for the documentation responsible for the developed content. By working with the right questions, he helps the group to come to sensible results; by summarizing and emphasizing the content, he brings even blurred content into a clear and usable form.

The role of the moderator can initially be compared to that of a Organizer be compared. Both in the preparation of the moderation meeting and in the implementation, he has the decisive function: He clarifies it Aim of moderation and thus the assignment, he prepares the dramaturgy, he ensures that the necessary moderation material is available and appropriately prepared, ultimately he bears the overall responsibility for the external success of a moderation.

Then the role of the moderator is that of the Leader. Only one person can take the lead in each group. In moderation, this function must be assigned to the moderator. However, he does not fulfill this function for an end in itself, but only to achieve the order.

Here is the Leadership style of a moderator characterized on the one hand by clarity, on the other hand by a mixture of content-related democracy (the group determines the content and the result) and formal directivity (the moderator sets times, determines the order of the messages, asks the questions, sets the work steps).

In summary the Tasks of the moderator:

  • Clarification of the assignment and the goals of the moderation
  • Creation of the dramaturgy
  • Organizational preparation of the meeting
  • introduction to the subject
  • Setting the moderation content
  • Control of the discussion process
  • Pointing out the content and clarifying the content of blurred posts
  • Responsibility for the visualization and documentation of the results


The moderation assignment

The first task of the moderator is to get a clear and feasible moderation assignment. As a rule, clients are not able to precisely formulate their moderation assignment. Therefore, this task falls to the moderator.

The precise formulation of the moderation task is carried out by the moderator after a meeting with the client and presented to him for signing. The moderator has to make sure that it is a feasible Moderation mandate is: Only those orders can be carried out that result in a "paper and pencil product" as the end result. For example, improving the working atmosphere is not a feasible moderation mandate. A moderation task could be to collect suggestions for improving the working atmosphere.

For everyone involved, it is important to note that the moderator sees himself as an impartial and compassionate companion in the conversation, guiding managers and employees through difficult terrain. This is not to be confused with aloof neutrality! This also includes conveying process security to the usually skeptical superior by describing to him in great detail how he will proceed:

By doing Preliminary talk Together with the employees, he will also first ask them what surprised, astonished and irritated them about the results. He will then have several questions answered and record the results on a flip chart: "What do you value about your manager? What do you want from your manager? What could the group's contribution look like?" He will attach great importance to the fact that the answers are formulated as concretely as possible.

This explanation is important because the supervisor needs to get used to the situation. There are always and everywhere conversations about people, be it between the door and the hinge or officially at personnel conferences, but it is new and strange for many managers that employees speak about their boss, officially, at the instigation of the company, and with the support of a moderator. It is easy to imagine how this supervisor is sitting a little restlessly at his place and thinking about what is probably being spread about him there. Therefore, he should be as precisely as possible in the picture about the process and know that the conversation is about his strengths and future solutions and not about accusations or blame.

Why did we choose this procedure in the first place? It has been found that the results usually vary enormously, so that the employees, when they see the results, first need to clarify: "Obviously, I see our boss very differently than the others when it comes to this question . Why?" It is difficult to conduct this discussion in the presence of the supervisor. In addition, in many cases there are considerable reservations: "Why did we actually judge anonymously when we now have to say everything openly?" The feedback conversation easily falls silent in the presence of the supervisor, who insists on explanations for certain results. "Well, you have to explain that to me now. When should that have happened?"

This can be interpreted as a lack of a culture of trust, as hierarchical thinking or simply as a lack of experience with feedback processes, that's just the way it is. The Preliminary talk with the employees is an important test run: opposing perceptions dissolve or are suddenly understood, the courage to make statements that fit better than any sentence in the questionnaire grows, you help each other to find clear examples. Those managers who have already taken part in the feedback discussion for their boss accept the approach and have come to appreciate it.

The moderator role can also be addressed directly: "What do you expect from me as a moderator in the joint conversation?" A question that belongs in the preliminary talk as well as the expression of the moderator's wishes. Consultants and moderators tend to ignore their own wishes and expectations2. Not naming them, however, contradicts the openness and partnership-like attitude that we demand from the manager. "I would like you to tell the employees at the beginning of the discussion what you were happy about and what hurt you about the results." or "I would like you to be clear about the wishes of your employees, that is, to state very clearly which suggestions you can unreservedly agree with, which you clearly reject and why and which you would like to have changed."

The conclusion of the preliminary talk is the question of what impression he has of the conversation, whether it has met his expectations and whether there are still any unanswered questions.

Concrete agreements

The moderator's most important objective is not creating losers, and it would be presumptuous to say that there have only been winners so far. "Now I also know what to think of some of my employees. I had already thought about it, but now I have it in black and white!" When making the statement, it is easy to see who has lost here. "I already thought that nothing would change here. The consequence is clear to me, I won't say another word here." Everyone lost here in the end. Some of these statements were made where a feedback conversation was held without a moderator, but even with a moderator it was not always possible to prevent someone from feeling like a loser. The chances of realistic agreements are good if the process is as described above. In this case, the joint conversation is actually quite straightforward.

The moderator can briefly slip into the role of the communication expert and explain feedback rules. Then he or - what is possible in open partnership relationships - one of the employees presents the results of the preliminary discussion to the superior. The previously found examples and quotations help to make the unclear understandable. Sometimes the moderator has to help out: "I understand that your employees want you to trust them. So if they can decide for themselves which congress to go to, this would be very strong evidence of your trust for your employees." Violent nods from the employees. Sometimes a little role play also helps. "What's so bad about it when I'm a little ironic? That's just my way." The moderator and an employee play through the situation. Version 1: "Perhaps you would be so kind as to submit the report by next Friday!" Version 2: "It would help me a lot if you finished the report by next Friday" Superiors and employees laugh, no further explanations are necessary.

The agreements can sometimes seem very banal. But it is precisely in the small changes that are quickly visible to everyone that the key to success lies. "If I once again lectured for hours at our meetings, then you just have to tell me." - "It's easy for you to talk, it's not that easy at all." At the end, you agree to a simple show of hands. "It's true, I am in the middle of thinking sometimes, when one of you walks in, I can keep staring at the screen." - "How about making an appointment?" - "I think it would be a lot of exaggeration if we suddenly started making appointments with each other." - "Well, then we can agree that we ask you whether you are too busy at the moment. You then contact us or tell us when we should come back." "It would be important if we could take a day off with the whole department and talk about the upcoming tasks. We have mentioned this many times, but never implemented it." An appointment will be found during the conversation.

An agreement belongs in every feedback conversation. "What happens to today's records? When do you want to sit down again and look back at what has become of your agreements? Who will make sure that this happens?" Sometimes the moderator is immediately committed to a fixed date, sometimes it is agreed to try this alone. Occasionally, however, the moderator also senses that the willingness for a follow-up appointment is not far off. "I have the impression that it is not that important to you ..." The statement can get the conversation going again. "What could keep you from sitting down again? What are you going to do about it?"

As with the preliminary talk, this event ends with the question: "How are you now? Did the interview meet your expectations? What would you do differently next time? What would you recommend me as a moderator?" If you initiate feedback, you should ask for feedback yourself and learn from it. What is the experienced moderator happy about? When the participants talk about a great result and less about his animation skills.

The dramaturgy

After the moderation assignment has been obtained, the moderator develops a targeted dramaturgy. The schedule of the moderation in all its steps and facets is called dramaturgy. The dramaturgy includes in detail:
  1. The introductory question
  2. The follow-up question
  3. All other follow-up questions

It is also to be noted with which method the individual steps are carried out (map query, call query, thesis, point query) and the time required for the individual step (in minutes). In the case of team moderation, the name of the moderator responsible is also placed after the individual step.

If it is not clear with which result a moderation step ends, possible alternative results must be thought through and corresponding follow-up questions must be formulated. This is called a so-called "branched dramaturgy".

Before it is carried out, the moderation must be checked for logical stringency and comprehensibility. All questions and work steps listed in the moderation are to be written down verbatim and transferred to the thesis papers just as later. It is advisable to take the questions to someone who is not involved and ask them to provide typical answers. The question can only be used if the answers match the desired work result.

Questions that are incomprehensible and questions that produce unwanted results must definitely be rephrased!

Notice: A moderation that starts incorrectly can only be corrected in very few cases!

The organizational preparation of the moderation

The moderator is responsible for the tools himself. This means that he ensures that moderation material is available in sufficient numbers. In detail, this means the following:

  • There must be enough filled pens available (approx. 2 per expected participant).
  • There must be enough marker pens (ideally 2 of each color).
  • There must be enough pritt pens (at least 5).
  • We recommend 500 moderation cards, 30 thesis cards, 30 to 50 sheets of wrapping paper, 100 comment cards, 50 small Kuller, 100 medium Kuller, 400 to 500 needles, at least 3 pin boards.
  • The pens must be checked for their filling level!

The moderator arrives at the moderation location in good time to make spatial preparations:

The pin boards are set up and placed accordingly, chairs for the participants are arranged in a semicircle, the moderation case is set up.

See in detail The moderation materials

Phases of moderation

1. The introduction

In the introduction, the moderator masters a very difficult task: he creates a relationship with the group and creates the appropriate working atmosphere. In detail this includes:

  • Introduce yourself and let the participants introduce themselves (this can be done with the support of a pin board)
  • The factual introduction to the topic
  • The naming of the moderation goal
  • The explanation of the work material to be used including a short writing exercise

The Question is a moderator's most powerful tool. With the help of a question, the engines of the group are set in motion to be creative, responsible, independent, consensual, consistent and active. The solutions to the pending problems and conflicts as well as the complete potential for results either lie with the group - or do not exist. A group is only able to act and achieve goals through well-formulated questions and tasks.

aims you have to introduce yourself first in order to then ask the group whether these are really their goals. The group must understand the objective and support it from the start. To achieve these goals, the moderation team suggests one Session flow in front. This also only applies after the group has given its consent and should be questioned again in the event of time bottlenecks or unforeseeable events (conflict escalation, lack of motivation or willingness to perform certain work steps quickly, etc.) and changed in consultation with the participants.

The changes should - like a contract - be recorded and adhered to if possible. Each process must be adapted to the needs of the participants and flexibly tailored to their abilities and wishes. If there are difficulties with individual work steps, it is important to refer to the goals again and ask the group again what their suggestions for further action are.

Entry and work questions should have the goal in mind, but keep the content open. Good questions or half-sentences, which are completed by the group, stimulate thoughts and discussions between the participants, but give them a fixed time and practical framework in which they relate to the time available, the possibilities of the participants and the practice. For a broad collection of ideas, topics, wishes, criticism, mood, a question is suitable that is formulated clearly and openly enough to be understood by everyone involved and that generates answers that can be used for further work steps. In addition, questions are suitable, with the help of which the personal opinion of all those involved can be collected.

Introductory questions can be formulated quite provocatively - especially in the case of a difficult topic that has already been dealt with by experts or in an unmotivated group. If, for example, all the solutions to the traffic problem in the model city have apparently been discussed and tried out unsuccessfully, a so-called "paradoxical intervention" can break the procedures of known solutions. Two examples to illustrate this: "What is the fastest way to increase the volume of traffic in Model City?" or "The car in Model City can also take over the following traffic areas ...".

2. The individual work steps

The moderator now works through every single work step specified in the dramaturgy without deviating from it through creativity. When presenting the work steps, the contents named on the thesis papers are to be named literally, with reference to the thesis paper to be processed accordingly.

In general, creativity is seen as something positive. In the moderation, however, it should absolutely be omitted - especially when presenting the task - because you can quickly get carried away with explanations that either already influence the result or confuse the participants. As a result, there is often such a strong need for explanation that one gets into difficulties of explanation and thus risks a loss of authority as a moderator. In addition, it is easier and more comprehensible for the participants to only present what is actually on the pin boards. Different methods can be used in moderation:

a) The thesis

The thesis serves to assess the mood in a moderation group. As a rule, theses such as: "The image of the Bochum city administration is ..." are made by the participants through four degrees of expression (e.g. very good, good, bad, very bad) by sticking an evaluation point. The thesis is always important when the moderation makes a basic assumption about the attitudes of the participants on a certain topic without having checked it beforehand. If the thesis gives an unexpected result, this unexpected result must be appropriately absorbed with the branched dramaturgy.

b) The card query

The card query is particularly suitable for beginners: Here, the participants are given the appropriate number of cards and they are asked to write their answers to the moderated question on the cards themselves. The cards are then collected by the moderator without looking at the content in detail before processing. Obviously, the cards must be mixed up before they can be processed. The cards are then processed in detail by the moderator by showing the group's content and presenting it at the same time. Then an attempt is made to work out a content structure with the cards on the pin boards.

c) The interrogation

The query is much more difficult than the card query, because here the participants are asked directly for an answer. The moderator's task is to summarize the answers given in a few words and to write them on a card or have them written by the co-moderator. The moderator then puts the written card in a systematic structure on the pin board, as with the card query.

d) The point query / weighting question

Whenever a decision has to be made in a moderation (e.g. selection of individual topics from a larger group), the point query is used. Here the decision question is formulated literally, put on a thesis paper by the moderator and pinned to the pin board. The thesis card must also be provided with 3 adhesive dots to make it clear that it is a question of points. The moderator also shows the participants where to put the dots. He shows this on every lump field that is placed. We should continue to deal with the following topics: ..:

As a guideline for the number of points to be distributed, the following applies: Number of total lumps present through 2 through 3. Overall, however, you should not distribute more than about 4 points, otherwise the whole result will be confusing.

It is important that the theses query matches the number of points awarded! For example, it must not happen that one asks the participants the following question "Which is the most important point for me" and hands out 3 adhesive dots to the participants. The most important point can only ever be one, so that only 1 adhesive point can be distributed.

It is also important to realize that the participants perceive such little things and blame the moderator for these things. So there is a very quick risk of losing your authority in the group.

e) Activity lists

In activity lists, the agreed tasks are summarized in tabular form and assigned to dates and persons responsible as well as those involved. The activity lists can only refer to persons present. The agreed tasks must be operationally formulated, i.e. concrete and measurable.

See in detail the Practical methods of moderation

3. The final presentation

After each moderated step, an intermediate presentation of the results will be made. First you present the given task verbatim, then you name the results (headings of the clusters for card groups, content of the individual cards for single-card clusters).

At the end of the overall moderation, the overall course of the moderation is briefly presented to the participants.

Notice: This absolutely last final presentation in the group should in no case exceed 5 to 8 minutes, otherwise the participants will lose their patience!

The documentation

During the breaks as well as at the end of the moderation, the moderator must ensure that the result is prepared for documentation. Above all, this means that the individual cards are glued to the wrapping paper using a pritt pen. Finished wrapping paper must be removed and placed face down on the floor, covered with blank wrapping paper. Then the entire documentation has to be rolled up and sealed with adhesive tape or thesis paper.

The result can then be made available to other groups of people using the packaging paper that has been drawn up or using a photograph or a slide.

It should be noted, however, that people who did not participate in the moderation themselves usually have no use for the result. Therefore a presentation by the moderator is absolutely necessary.

During the presentation, the moderator stands in such a way that he does not cover the presentation walls for anyone present. This usually means that you are just in front of the walls next to the moderation wall that has just been presented (whereby it is best to stand to the right of the wall if you are presenting on the right side and to the left of the wall if you are on the presented on the left). The moderator's front is generally directed towards the group and not towards the content on the wall (this means that you should be able to master the content to some extent). During the lecture, the flat of the hand and the outstretched arm should be pointed at the content currently being presented.

If interim questions are asked by the participants and the audience, the hand should also point to the topics about which the interim question is being asked.

An important one applies to both presentations and moderation Basic rule:

The group has absolute priority! Specifically, this means that the moderator must be so familiar with the method that he can really turn to the group and notice the smallest disturbances immediately and then be ready to deal with them!

Rejection of the order

Can a moderator, especially if he is an employee of the company, refuse an assignment at all? At this point we would like to come back to the demand for impartiality, result orientation and empathy and can imagine some problematic situations.

  1. Too much familiarity
    If he knows the supervisor or one or more of his employees better, he should generally decline the moderation. Even if the moderator tries to remain neutral, it will be difficult for him to represent this credibly.
  2. Unwillingness to talk
    This rejection is not easy if you are already in the preliminary discussion and discover there that you are not ready for an open feedback discussion and that the preliminary discussion does not change anything. In our opinion - and after negative experiences - the moderator should however have the courage to do so and clearly justify this.
  3. The paths split
    Sometimes executives already know that they will change positions or that there will be serious organizational changes, but have still committed to silence. Here the moderator should definitely decline the conversation or postpone it to a point in time after the announcement.
    But then we recommend having the interview. At the end of the day, there are no agreements between the employees and the - outgoing - manager, but the superiors - as a rule - gladly take advantage of the opportunity to learn something about the effects of their own behavior. "That can only help me if I take on my new job!"
  4. Chemistry is wrong
    After all, the case is conceivable that the moderator simply does not get a line to the supervisor, the two of them work on different wavelengths, so to speak. Clearly rising feelings of aversion and lack of appreciation can significantly impair the moderation result. In this case, too, we recommend finding another moderator.


Under use from http://www.maas-training.de/ maas / DOKU_5.EXE (01-01-27)
The author's permission is available.

Other sources: Thönneßen, Johannes & Reisdorff, Josef (1999). Manager feedback: the art of moderation. Personnel management issue 12, pp. 54-57.
Böning, Uwe (1991). Moderating with a system. Control meetings efficiently. Wiesbaden: Gabler Verlag:
Moderation training "Process Manager of the Local Agenda 21 Baden-Württemberg" working materials.
WWW: http://www.lfu.baden-wuerttemberg.de (04-07-04)

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