That feeling you get when you sit down in a meeting and 10 minutes in think “this could have been an email”, “this isn’t going anywhere”, “we talk about the same thing every week”.
What makes a meeting effective, efficient and productive? It can be the involvement of a great facilitator. They act as a leader and a navigator to steer a group of people to achieving their meeting goals. They extract insight, knowledge, wisdom and the experience of the group and use it to meet the goals of the meeting.
Here are some key elements of the meeting facilitator
1 Clarifying the Goals
This is about knowing in advance the objectives and purposes of the meeting; it is about thoroughly understanding what the group needs to achieve. This enables the facilitator to drive, guide and reroute activities.
2 Controlling Proceedings
This involves making sure that all of the required processes and practices are adhered to. It includes but is not limited to following the agenda, time keeping, discussions and disagreements. Wise facilitators set the pace. The aim is to control the meeting and the opportunity that it represents, it is not about controlling people.
3 Steering focus and activity
It is very easy for a group to head off on a path that is interesting and stimulating but not related to the agenda. The goal is to keep people focused on the things that matter. This is about investing time not spending time.
4 Facilitating Discussion
This includes the use of open questions to start discussions. It also involves controlling when different people have their say, holding back others and bringing different people into the discussion at the most appropriate times.
5 Involving Everyone
It is easy to sit back and simply watch all the discussions and conversations take place around you. Some team members may be introverted, and some may feel like it doesn’t really involve them. The role of the facilitator is to involve them by asking questions, asking them to answer another person’s question or simply asking for their view.
6 Confirming Progress
This is especially important with long meetings. The role of the facilitator is to provide encouragement and context; showing the group the value of the investment in time that they have made.
7 Leading Decisions
It is up to the facilitator to decide when lots of helpful discussion has taken place and it is time to narrow the conversation down and steer it towards a decision. Without helpful leadership in this area it is easy for the team to just think of more and more examples and move in circles.
8 Capturing Actions
Some meetings can go on for a long time and so much is discussed and debated. It is essential that someone captures all of the decisions and action points that have been agreed and reflects this back to the group - this person is the facilitator. It does not mean that this person actually writes the notes themselves, but they do have to make sure someone is. It’s a good idea to have this person summarise their notes throughout the meeting so that you can ensure all of the important meeting outcomes and actions have been noted.
If you'd like to improve on these skills, please have look at our Communication Skills for Team Leaders course.