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Sharpening Facilitation Skills at the Performance Improvement Council’s Collaboration Studio

Posted Feb 08, 2016

By Boris Arratia, General Services Administration Continuous Process Improvement Team


How important are effective facilitation skills to helping a team clearly understand a challenge and then develop and implement breakthrough solutions? After serving a detail with the PIC’s Collaboration Studio, I can confidently say a whole lot!   

As a Continuous Process Improvement (CPI)/Lean Six Sigma (LSS) practitioner for over 20 years, I’ve spent much of my career coaching and helping teams address challenges or opportunities through the application of CPI/LSS tools.   While there are many factors that go into executing a successful CPI project, being able to maximize the creative potential of a team is absolutely essential.  Enter the PIC’s Collaboration Studio!

This team focuses on using person-focused, action-based strategies to help solve complex challenges.  The team consistently designs and facilitates engagements that enable teams to effectively build understanding, shape choices, and make decisions. Led by PIC’s expert facilitator and graphic recorder, Stephanie Brown, the Collaboration Studio’s well established facilitation approach is helping advance the President’s management agenda through high impact cross-agency and single agency engagements.  


The Collaboration Studio helps teams of curious, committed and empowered people to achieve breakthroughs in their initiatives through these types of engagements:

Strategy Studio: Through this offering, teams frame a common purpose, bring shape to choices and define strategies. The group leaves with a graphic roadmap and actionable next steps to advance progress on goals and an understanding of how their work will contribute to the overall mission of the organization.

Image of what is brought to the table during collaboration studio events

Delivery System Analysis: This studio helps build understanding about the nature of the delivery chains involved in achieving priority outcomes by identifying levers, relationships, synergies and blockages which can help or hinder service delivery.

Performance Measurement Studio: Through this offering, teams define outcomes and develop measures that demonstrate which strategies are working well and which ones are not.  Teams create a measures framework that will inform their decision-making process and measure progress towards achieving their goals.

Innovation Sprint: In this studio, a team gathers insights from users/customers, tests assumptions about how to solve a challenge and rapidly prototypes solutions in an iterative manner.  Through this collaborative process, teams solve challenges with laser focus and ingenuity in a compressed timeframe.

Conversation Café: This is an inclusive process to start an inquiry and hear from the broader community as you design your strategies for implementation. During a café, clusters of small groups converse around pertinent questions and then move to a different group to take the conversation even further.

Journey Mapping:  This studio helps a team gain a deeper understanding of the steps a customer takes across a process and of their emotional experience during that journey.  This studio will help the team to design a seamless, streamlined customer experience that cuts across silos and effectively engages all of the key stakeholders.

Studio participants at work

Working with cross-agency and single agency teams to help design and deliver Collaboration Studio engagements, such as the above, enabled me to take a quantum leap in my facilitation skills. The experience challenged me to go well beyond conventional facilitation techniques I had learned through years of working with process improvement teams.  For example,  I was able to gain a deeper understanding of how Human Centered Design, Appreciative Inquiry, and Graphic Recording approaches can greatly enhance team engagement, motivation and innovation.


While not an easy transformation for me, it was incredibly rewarding gaining confidence with new tools while witnessing teams achieve great moments of impact.  Some highlight collaboration events include:

  • Advancing Insider Threat and Security Clearance Reform (ITSCR) through performance measures development
  • Building strategies and action plans for improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education
  • Helping a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) team to build resilience strategies for communities affected by severe weather events

I would highly recommend a detail with the PIC’s Collaboration Studio if you are looking to greatly improve facilitation skills while helping teams make a big difference on complex and high priority challenges and opportunities.  If you would like more information about the Collaboration Studio, reach out to