Updated: Dec 29, 2018
A skilled facilitator can make a meeting feel thoughtful, cohesive, participatory, and even enjoyable. Yes, enjoyable.
Every facilitator has a different style, and every group has different dynamics. A skilled facilitator adapts to the needs of each particular team and meeting. She can get everyone to share their voices amidst the various personalities, opinions, and sensitivities that exist in any group of humans, while also guiding the group to achieve the desired outcome within the meeting time constraints.
Here’s a secret: armed with the proper facilitation techniques, almost anyone can learn to become a better meeting facilitator.
The role of the meeting facilitator
The facilitator doesn’t need to be an expert in the content - the “what” - of the meeting. Sometimes she doesn’t even need to be a member of the group, such as in the case of a consultant stepping in to mediate a dispute. Instead, the facilitator is in charge of the meeting process – “how” the meeting will progress through the agenda topics. The facilitator guides a discussion of the topics laid out in the meeting agenda, with the purpose of moving the team towards a common goal. A skilled facilitator fosters collaboration and teamwork and manages conflict among team members.
10 meeting facilitation techniques to improve your skills
Most skilled facilitators - just like most anyone who excels in any art, science, or sport - are made through study and practice. If you want to improve your facilitation skills and lead better meetings, try these 10 facilitation techniques.
According to Kristin Cobble, leader of the San Francisco based consulting firm Groupaya,
“Check-ins encourage everyone in the room to focus on the meeting and each other.”
During your check-in, ask questions like:
Before we get started with the agenda, what’s on everyone’s mind?
What is one thing you hope to accomplish in this meeting today?
What one word best describes your mood at this moment?
Check-ins only require a few minutes and yield valuable rewards. They allow people to get to know more about each other and bring people’s attention into the room, so everyone is mentally present for the conversation.
Ideally, you will have sent out the meeting agenda in advance so everyone knows the purpose of the meeting. If you haven’t, or if it’s an impromptu meeting, quickly work with participants to define what success will look like by the meeting’s end. A brief review of the desired outcomes and agenda items gets the group aligned toward accomplishing the meeting goal.
It’s OK, even advisable, for a facilitator to ask others to take on different roles like note-taker and time-keeper. Providing meeting participants with opportunities to help creates a communal responsibility to make the meeting a success. Remember to rotate the roles each meeting so that everyone can participate in different ways over time.
According to facilitation expert Terrence Metz, active listening includes four steps: contact, absorb, feedback, and confirm. Here are some suggestions for putting these steps into action:
Contact: Listen to each participant attentively and reinforce what is being said by maintaining eye contact or non-verbal responses.
Absorb: Take in what each person says as well as their body language without judgment or evaluation.
Feedback: Paraphrase and summarize what the speaker says back to the speaker.
Confirm: Get confirmation from the speaker that you understand their points accurately.
5. Take stack
When multiple participants want to speak at the same time, manage the process by jotting down the names of people who have something to say and letting each individual speak, one at a time, without interruption. Check each name off until everyone who wants to speak has done so.
Sometimes several different conversation themes emerge simultaneously in a meeting. When this happens, the facilitator needs to get everyone on the same page before moving forward. Ask the participants to take a step back, name the various topics, and decide with the participants which ones to pursue. Alternatively, you can provide suggestions for narrowing the conversation or organizing themes so that the meeting stays on track to achieve the desired goals. You can also ask the note-taker to record remaining topics in the backburner for the team to revisit at a different time.
Once the main subject has emerged, pause and provide time for silent reflection. Ideally, ask participants to write down their thoughts to help internalize what’s been said and to identify concerns or questions free of the influence of others’ opinions.
The facilitator should always be aware that some group members may be less vocal than others, and their voices are still important. The facilitator should create a safe space for them to engage. Ask open-ended questions to draw people out, like, “What do you think?” “What would you do?” and “What other ideas are you considering?” Establishing meeting norms also helps.
Consider dividing participants into small groups for discussion to encourage participation from quieter team members. Then bring everyone back to the full group and ask for conversation highlights.
When the energy in the room is low, or when people become restless, take short breaks. Longer meetings require even more break time. A mental break is especially helpful for introverts who need to recharge from a lot of talking. In addition, consider leading a quick stretching activity to help people feel physically and mentally refreshed.
At the end of the meeting, be sure that all decisions, tasks, and next steps are documented in detail so everyone knows how to follow through. Restating the key outcomes verbally helps the group feel a sense of accomplishment. Asking participants to verbally check-out gives people a space to express final questions or concerns and creates meeting closure.
Improving your meeting facilitation techniques brings the sweet satisfaction of helping people engage with the content and each other, all while moving work forward.
What are your favorite meeting facilitation techniques?
Want more tips?
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