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How Moderating Focus Groups Has Made Me A Better Manager

Source | FastCompany : By BROOKE NIEMIEC

I recently dusted off my focus-group–moderator shoes in order to run a few sessions on behalf of a big client. As I was preparing, I found myself jotting down a quick script with ground rules to help things go smoothly—things like:

Be honest—you won’t hurt my feelings. I want to hear from everyone. You can’t all talk at the same time. If you dominate the conversation, I might ask you to take a cookie break.

I also sketched out a second list of guidelines for myself, widely practiced moderating techniques that would help make sure I left with valuable, actionable feedback from the participants.

Reviewing these notes, it struck me that these moderating techniques also double as effective management tactics. A successful focus group is all about building rapport, getting feedback, and capturing a deep understanding of how the group feels and thinks. Managers likewise need to build strong relationships with their teams, and should care about uncovering their underlying thoughts and motivations.

With these shared objectives in mind, here’s a look at five things effective managers can learn from a well-run focus group.


Good focus groups usually start with an icebreaker to let members learn more about one another. The activities and topics involved are safe, and they’re meant to knock down some of the barriers between people. To improve their own team dynamics, managers should also invest in helping their teams get to know each other better. Even for teams that have worked together a lot, a quick warm-up at the start of a meeting might be a smart idea.

In their book The Happy Employee, Julia McGovern and Susan Shelly advocate not only making an effort to learn about employees’ personal lives, but also—as focus-group moderators do—using that knowledge to show you care about them and are interested in what they can contribute.

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