Facilitate Meetings More Effectively
By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC
You may be asked to lead meetings as part of your job or volunteer activities. Make them pleasant and productive by learning how to help people stick to the agenda and feel engaged.
Reviewing these guidelines and coping techniques for tricky situations that may occur during your meetings will help you accomplish your purpose in record time.
General Guidelines for Facilitating Meetings
1. Stick to the schedule. One of the most common complaints about meetings is a failure to stick to the schedule. It’s important to start and end on time. Appoint a timekeeper to back you up.
2. Circulate an agenda. Ask for agenda items beforehand and make it easier for people to come prepared by circulating it in advance. Review it at the start of the session for any additions or changes that need to be made. Set a maximum time for each topic so you stay on track.
3. Tailor your facilitation style to the group. The best approach depends on the experience and preferences of the group. Some organizations may follow strict protocols while others enjoy more informal discussions.
4. Set ground rules. Prevention is usually the best strategy for dealing with conflict. If you know that disagreements are likely to occur, use ground rules to encourage respectful and constructive dialogue. One suggestion is to be tough on issues rather than on people.
5. Test the equipment. Ensure your laptops, microphones and conference call lines are working before the meeting starts. People are likely to mentally wander off if you spend too long debating how to advance the slides.
6. Focus on objectives. Identify objectives for each agenda item. Develop action plans for implementing decisions. Ask for volunteers to take responsibility for the follow-up tasks. Don’t be afraid of silence. People will step up to the plate if you give them a chance.
Coping Techniques for Common Challenges
1. Get people talking. Give everyone a chance to contribute. Go around the table. Ask to hear from people who haven't spoken yet. Watch for subtle signals like facial expressions that suggest someone may be waiting for an opening to chime in.
2. Stop people from talking too much. If a handful of people are dominating the exchange, use ground rules to establish a speaking order. Tactfully encourage people to wrap up long speeches. Dividing into small groups may also help to balance the discussion.
3. Remain neutral. The role of a facilitator is to enable a productive group process and open discussion. Stay objective to avoid imposing your personal opinions. This is especially important because, as a facilitator, your statements may carry more weight.
4. Overcome impasses. If you sense that there's going to be some trouble reaching a consensus, try pointing out the common ground and agreements you’ve already reached.
5. Minimize distractions. Having a meeting is difficult when everyone is texting. Start off with an announcement to turn phones off and to step outside for emergency calls. As any classroom teacher knows, side conversations will usually subside if you wander over in the participants’ direction.
6. Take time for team building. If the group is unfamiliar with each other or lacks cohesion, do a round of introductions and play some icebreaker games. Serve lunch or pre-meal snacks to provide some social time together.
Skillful facilitation creates an environment where all meeting participants can feel comfortable working together toward their common goals.
You can help everyone feel like they can contribute, manage conflicts with finesse, and guide the discussion toward the outcomes that the group is seeking. When you do, you’ll become a valued facilitator and will be pleased with the results!