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Why CATER Is a Powerful Mental Model for Improving Team Facilitation

The mental model CATER will help you recall the five ways to improve any form of team facilitation. CATER does two big things necessary for all great facilitated sessions. The mental model creates comparable knowledge among participants and opens feedback channels for successful collaboration.


CATER is both a mental model and a mnemonic. The model identifies the core components of a system and helps you wrap your head around how the components interact.

A mnemonic is a memory device designed to help people with difficulty to-recall information. It connects prior knowledge and new concepts through verbal, visual, and acoustic clues. Acronyms are a form of mnemonic. CATER stands for:

  • Communicate in pre-session exchanges.

  • Ask powerful questions.

  • Anticipate Trouble.

  • Use engaging Exercises.

  • Manage the Rhythm.

Pre-Session Exchange

A pre-session exchange involves the facilitator (session leader) collecting information from the participants before the facilitated session. The exchange usually occurs via face-to-face interviews, phone interviews, or online surveys. The pre-session exchange should be planned and structured in a manner equal to planning and structuring the main session.

Asking Powerful Questions

Powerful questions lead participants to active thought, debate, and compelling results. Weak questions do the opposite. Introductory questions and clarifying questions are the two major classes of powerful questions.

Anticipate Trouble

Disruption is a reality. Trouble will occur. Great facilitators embrace the reality of disruption and are prepared to move through trouble.

Engaging Exercises

Engaging exercises are what draw favorable attention or interest. Some synonyms for engaging make the point better: alluring, appealing, captivating, charismatic, enchanting, entrancing, fascinating, glamorous, magnetic, and seductive. From experience, a facilitated session can achieve its outcomes if its exercises rise to the level of engagement.

Manage the Rhythm

Whether a single or multiple sessions, “ups” and “downs” will occur during the facilitation process. Like many things in business and life, the lowest points are followed by the highest. Experienced facilitators understand this. Great facilitators look for and can spot subtle changes in tempo and attitudes. All facilitators must master the rhythm and timing associated with group dynamics.

Facilitating with FINESSE

CATER is discussed more in Facilitating with FINESSE: A Guide to Successful Business Solutions. The book applies CATER to ten commonly facilitated business applications, ranging from risk assessments, business cases, failure analysis, and strategic plans. Move your facilitation from good to great by CATERing to participants!


Communicating with FINESSE is a not-for-profit community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly effective communicators and facilitators. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.



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