10 tips to stop running meetings and start facilitating them

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10 tips to stop running meetings and start facilitating them

Stop running, Start Facilitating!

By: Kumar Dattatreyan

Do you run your meetings, or do you facilitate them? Meeting facilitation might seem like just a fancy name for running a meeting, but there is much more to it.

What is facilitation? Meeting facilitation is a process of guiding a group of people to reach a conclusion. Meeting facilitators are trained in the art and science of meeting facilitation to lead meetings that accomplish results. Meeting facilitators can be internal employees or external consultants. Meeting facilitation is a specialized area that requires certifications for those looking to become experts in the field.

How do you facilitate meetings? Facilitation brings an objective perspective into the meeting process, ensuring all participants have their voices heard and decisions are made purposefully instead of wasting time on unproductive debates. Skilled facilitators help facilitate meetings by using various tools and techniques appropriate to the situation and the meeting goals and outcomes.

What are some tips for facilitating meetings? Here are ten tips you can use when you want to stop running meetings and start facilitating them!

1. Preparation is Key

The first and most important tip is to prepare for your meeting well. Facilitating meetings can be very rewarding, but it also has its challenges. Therefore, meeting facilitators need to make sure they have all the necessary tools at hand to keep everyone engaged during their discussion.

Here are some of the things you should consider before facilitating a meeting:

It's important to know who the audience is and what they need. Excellent facilitation is all about ensuring everyone leaves with the information they came for, which might not always happen if you fail to prepare adequately.

It's also important to know what the attendees are interested in. Engaging and effective facilitation is an art, and effectively managing meetings is the outcome. You can't expect to engage the whole group with the same approach or techniques.

2. Be clear on the purpose of the meeting

What is the purpose of the meeting? With a clear purpose, you'll know what information to cover and how. Be sure to do your homework so that you understand the topic well and can facilitate it successfully.

The purpose should be essential to the people attending and something that has a clear outcome. If the purpose is unclear, then it's easy for the outcome to be unclear as well. Meeting facilitation is all about setting goals and keeping people focused on them, so ensure your meeting purpose has an outcome that will help you achieve results.

How can you be sure you understand the purpose? Asking questions from the sponsors or key contributors is key to understanding the purpose of the meeting. You can do this during the meeting, or better yet, prepare ahead of time and ask the key stakeholders what the purpose and outcome for the meeting are.

3. Create an interactive agenda

Once you understand the purpose, it's easier to create an agenda. An interactive agenda requires input from group members. A meeting facilitator should focus on engaging the audience, which can be accomplished by creating an agenda where everyone contributes to the discussion topics and activities or exercises for each meeting topic.

The tools and techniques a meeting facilitator uses to engage the group will depend on the audience's interests and expertise and how much time you have. Knowing who will attend the meeting ahead of time will help you plan your approach.

It's often a good practice to craft your agenda in the form of questions. Then, meeting participants will feel like they are more involved in providing answers, leading to more engaging discussions.

Remember that you are facilitating the discussion, not running it! Effective facilitation is not about how long your meetings last; rather, it's all about keeping people involved in an engaging conversation or activity, so they stay focused throughout the meeting.

4. Open the meeting with an ice-breaker

An ice-breaker is a quick activity that helps people get to know each other before starting on the main agenda items of your meeting. Examples of ice-breakers include a round of introductions where each person says their name and one interesting fact about themselves or a collaborative activity that gets the group working together to solve a problem.

It doesn't have to be an elaborate process; a simple check-in that takes a few minutes is sufficient to ensure the group is ready to engage and participate.

Effective facilitation is all about creating a safe space for your audience to engage in an active discussion that will lead to positive outcomes. The best meeting facilitators start on the right foot by breaking down social barriers and getting people to know each other before starting on the main discussion points during your meeting.

5. Review the Purpose, Outcome, and the Agenda

After the ice-breaker, the most crucial step is to review the purpose of the meeting and what you want to achieve. Remember, as the meeting facilitator, your job is to expose the group's agenda and tailor the approach to support the desired outcome. If the purpose, outcome, and agenda don't align with what the group wants to accomplish, don't be afraid to take a step back and make changes.

Effective facilitation is all about adapting and serving the needs of the participants. Therefore, the proposed agenda is merely a snapshot of the meeting and should be treated as a flexible guideline.

For example, let's say you're facilitating a brainstorming session about improving employee onboarding, and you notice that the group is becoming disengaged. Meeting facilitation in this situation would be about stepping back, re-examining your purpose, outcome, and agenda for the meeting, then adapting to best serve the needs of your audience. Instead of brainstorming ideas on improving employee onboarding, perhaps it's better to brainstorm ideas on how to engage employees.

6. Facilitate conversation through questions

As a meeting facilitator, your role is to facilitate conversation and keep the group on track by asking questions. Meeting facilitation isn't about giving direct orders or telling people what they should do; rather, it's all about keeping the discussion going in an engaging direction that will lead to positive outcomes for everyone involved.

A skilled meeting facilitator asks questions to help guide the discussion in an engaging direction, is always curious, always explores the topics for the benefit of the group. This is why it's essential to avoid closed questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Instead, meeting facilitation is all about engaging your audience with open-ended questions that will lead them to discover possible solutions or answers on their own.

By asking questions, it's important to pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate the group is getting off track. Body language, such as people turning away from each other or closing their eyes, may suggest that the topic of discussion isn't relevant to everyone. Asking powerful open-ended questions can help lead to creative solutions and a shared understanding of the issues discussed.

7.Make space for everyone to contribute

Effective facilitation is all about making sure everyone has a voice and gets an opportunity to contribute their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Meeting facilitation isn't just your job; it's also the responsibility of every participant in the room.

Creating a space where everyone feels safe to contribute is key to meeting facilitation. We mentioned psychological safety before; when some people are less likely to participate actively, skilled meeting facilitators take notes and summarize what others say. They also create activities that allow different viewpoints to emerge from the quieter participants. Sticky notes are a wonderful invention. Whether the particular meeting is in person or remote, utilizing a whiteboard (or equivalent tool) is a great way to level the playing field between extroverts and introverts in the meeting.

Excellent facilitation skills include a lot of active listening, which means making eye contact with the speaker and paraphrasing what's said to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to share their thoughts without feeling intimidated or excluded from the conversation. If the meeting is remote and participants are distributed, that may mean asking people to turn their cameras on while speaking. Make sure people feel safe to do so and try not to force the issue if they don't. The goal is always to increase participation and engagement, so be aware of the group's reaction when asking them to agree to certain meeting norms. Remember, psychological safety is more important than using the fanciest new remote meeting tools!

Some meetings may require a formalized decision-making process, such as voting on an important topic or selecting the next project to work on. Facilitation for this kind of meeting is all about making sure everyone gets their voice heard and feels equally valued in the conversation.

Meeting facilitation skills that serve well, in this case, are the ability to converge on several options and vote for the choice that makes the most sense for the situation. Meeting facilitators shouldn't encourage anyone to vote one way or another; they should encourage everyone to collaborate in a decision-making process until the group has come together on key decisions that work best for all involved.

Ultimately, great facilitation skills are required to ensure full participation by all involved and that the group had a part to play in creating a shared outcome for all involved.

8. Leave your biases at home.

Effective facilitation isn't about your own opinions or ideas; it's all about helping the group get to their best outcome by giving everyone a chance to share.

Skilled facilitation requires you to leave your biases at home, which means not sharing what you think should happen until the end of the conversation and making sure that your own perspective doesn't negatively influence people. Meeting facilitation isn't about you; it's all about the group!

It's important that if you do need to share an opinion, you do so by first asking permission from the group and stating that you are leaving your position as a neutral facilitator and would like to share an opinion. When you are finished sharing, it's always best to let people know that you're now back to playing the role of the neutral facilitator. This can be tricky and isn't recommended unless you're a facilitator and a member of the team and therefore have an opinion you'd like the group to consider.

It's much safer to play the role of the neutral facilitator in most circumstances and not chance biasing the group with your opinions.

9. Create a "parking lot" for good ideas that distract

Often, new ideas start to flow when facilitating a meeting, and many of them are good ones. Effective and skilled facilitation means you must be willing to draw a line in the sand and say, "we can't discuss all these ideas right now" so that everyone is on the same page moving forward.

Facilitating meetings requires setting aside some topics for another time, such as creating a parking lot where the ideas are prioritized and discussed at a future time. Remember, if the idea doesn't support the outcome you're all striving for, it might be best to park that idea.

Everyone must understand why the meeting facilitator has chosen this approach so they can trust your judgment moving forward and feel confident in future decisions about what should go into the parking lot of ideas versus actually being discussed further. Creating a parking lot early in the meeting reinforces what's important and what's not, so people feel confident in the decisions you're making as their facilitator.

10. Provide Closure and follow-up

Before ending the meeting, it's always best to provide a clear sense of Closure on all decisions made. Skilled facilitators make sure everyone understands what was decided and how they can follow up with the facilitator if necessary to ensure their questions are answered or concerns addressed. As part of any meeting wrap-up, always include clear action items, responsibilities, and follow-up dates.

What happens after the meeting? Meeting facilitators should be responsible for follow-up and making sure that what was decided in the room is carried out as agreed upon, which is why it's important to provide everyone with clear action items and responsibilities. The goal should always be to resolve issues without having to call additional meetings. We all suffer from too many meetings, and it's best to resolve any issues asynchronously rather than drag people back into a meeting.

In Conclusion

If you're ready to stop running meetings and start facilitating them, these 10 tips are a great place to start! Skilled and effective facilitation is a much more challenging skill than most people realize; it requires the meeting facilitator to set aside their biases and opinions for everyone else's opinion to be included. Facilitation is an exercise in maintaining neutrality, staying curious, and genuinely showing care and ownership of the meeting process. By care, we mean caring for both the people, their safety, and the process that leads to the outcome.

Excellent facilitation also means creating an idea parking lot early on to progress through the agenda more effectively. And finally, skilled facilitation includes clarifying what was decided in the room and follow-up with action items and responsibilities assigned after each decision is made.

Meeting facilitating isn't easy, but when done right, it will help your team make better decisions while feeling confident from beginning to the end of the meeting. We hope you found this article valuable and are can use these tips to facilitate successful meetings!

Learn more at one of our courses on facilitation!

Watch a short video on how you can plan your next meeting to great results!


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