Meetings have a bad reputation. Participants leave feeling as though the time spent “could have been an email.” But this maybe more of a problem of how a meeting is being facilitated rather than the meeting itself.
The role of the facilitator
The role of the facilitator is to ease the process for reaching the desired outcome. Their role entails designing and planning the session(s), guiding and controlling, and, unless otherwise delegated to someone else, record and action.
Good facilitators ensure that the meeting, workshop, or session achieves the objective with the right amount of resources. In a lot of ways, they are akin to good project managers, ensuring that the session completes within schedule and on budget.
Design and plan
Designing and planning how to facilitate a meeting or workshop is imperative for success. It allows the facilitator to envision how the session will unfold. To do this, a few key steps along with some decisions need to be taken.
First, the facilitator needs to identify what is the objective of the sessions. Namely, what do we, the organization, want as an outcome from the session. Outcomes can come in many forms. It can be a decision that needs to be made. Or it can be a goal of all participants leaving with some form of knowledge. In some cases, it can be more concrete, such as a project plan being developed. Understanding and communicating the session objective is key in reaching success.
Next, determine how the achieve this objective. This is where the facilitator designs how the session unfolds. A key decision here is whether the sessions are guided discussions or if they are open discussions. Depending on the objective, one approach maybe more appropriate than the other.
The third step is to identify who are the participants. Depending on the objective, facilitators may need a blend of subject matter experts and key decision makers. Identifying the participants can make or break a session depending on how engaged they are with the session. Thus, when choosing participants, other considerations such as individuals time availability and how well they know others in the group should also be taken into consideration.
The facilitator may also look to leverage tools to help facilitate the discussion. Examples of tools include brainstorming, breakout sessions, and icebreakers.
Set the agenda
There is nothing more useless than a meeting invitation without an agenda. Therefore, this point is being given its own section. To facilitate effectively, it is important to draft and communicate an agenda to all participants. This way participants know what to expect and can prepare.
When designing the agenda, facilitators need to take into consideration additional factors that can improve the perception of the session. For example, is there an opportunity for participants to get to know one another, will all participants have an opportunity to contribute, how will results and outcomes of the session be communicated, how will we recap and create next steps.
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Guide and control
The successful execution of an effective session comes down to the guide and control. This is where the facilitator exercises different tools to drive the momentum and energy of the group to the objective. A few key tips to facilitate a smooth session include:
Start with introductions – as a consultant who had facilitate workshops with all levels of an organization, the introduction was my way of setting the tone of the sessions. I always started with introductions and a fun impersonal fact about myself. This always diffused the awkward first-day feeling while making me more approachable. I would also have everyone introduce themselves and tell one fun fact about themselves as well. The key with this – having the spotlight makes people feel included.
Additionally, it helps build impersonal bonds within the team. This was the most effective way to bring together a group of colleagues who may have been strangers prior to that meeting.
Set ground rules – in addition to the agenda, let participants know how questions and feedback will be addressed will be helpful in encouraging participants to engage and managing time.
Engage but remain neutral – as a facilitator, it is important to engage at the right level to keep the conversation going. It is also important to remain objective throughout the discussion as to ensure that everyone feels they can contribute to the discussion.
Manage the energy – a good facilitator can read the energy of the room and will manage it accordingly. Take breaks when needed. Bring participants into the conversation by steering or asking questions their way. Break apart side conversations to keep the energy, noise, and attention in the central discussion.
Record and action
The default output of any meeting or session is a record and or prompt for action. Formats to use include meeting minutes or a project status report. Recording a meeting is important as it becomes the single source of truth for the discussions that occurred. Furthermore, meeting minutes or project status reports can communicate key decisions and action items to participants or other stakeholders.
Additional tips for facilitators
- For sessions with brainstorming, request participants to prepare and submit ideas ahead of time to reduce groupthink and to make space for those who may not be comfortable contributing in large groups.
- When possible, choose an interactive format that is engaging.
- Request for no laptops or devices to remove potential distractions.
- When budget permits, use food such as coffee and pastries, especially if it is a workshop that is above and beyond an individuals’ daily duties.
- To facilitate an effective meeting, facilitators need to design and plan, guide and control, and record and action the session.
- Good facilitators remain neutral and objective to ensure all participants feel that they can contribute to the session.
- Successful sessions are all about expectations and perception – manage both accordingly.
Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in human resources and leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful: