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It’s easy to spot someone who is missing fundamental facilitation skills. The meetings they lead don’t reach the desired outcome, they feel frustrated the meeting didn’t go anywhere, and the people who were at the meeting report that it wasn’t effective.
The word facilitation comes from the French faciliter, “to render easy” and the Latin facilis, “easy.”
Making things easier for others is the mandate of service-oriented departments – those that are tasked with serving the rest of the organization, e.g., human resources, IT or facilities. Yet when meeting facilitation isn’t handled well, this important work doesn’t get done well or at all.
Here are 7 simple things you can do to be more service-oriented and effective as a meeting facilitator:
Send out a meeting agenda ahead of time. State the desired outcome – the purpose of the meeting – whether that’s to align, to brainstorm, to find a solution for a specific problem, or something else. You need to know at the end of the meeting whether you’ve arrived where you wanted to go.
Ask open-ended questions to encourage discussion. Show people that you’re interested in their ideas and opinions, and that you value collaboration. Close-ended questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no” shut down the conversation.
Take notes that everyone can see. Use a whiteboard, flipchart or a computer with a projector screen. For virtual meetings, use screen sharing or other conferencing tools.
Track each issue, action, and responsible party. Put these three columns into a template so you can keep a running tally. It’s important to check off what will get done, by when and by whom. So for example, if someone raises an issue that gets added to the meeting notes, if you don’t resolve it with action steps and assign someone to deal with it, those blank spaces in the template will be visible and obvious to everyone.
Update the list. When something is completely resolved, you can check it off or cross it out. If something is only half-finished or still open, circle it so the whole audience sees this and will carry forward to the next meeting.
Summarize. Dedicate the final few minutes of each meeting to summarize what’s been covered and what people have agreed to do. Don’t overdo it or get mired in the details; try to keep things at a high-level overview.
Follow up immediately. Send the project status details (issues, actions, responsible parties) to everyone by email. Use a format people are comfortable and familiar with, whether that’s a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet, or a report from your project management software.
Meeting facilitation is a leadership skill that can make anyone more effective, build the person’s credibility, encourage buy-in from those at the meeting, improve clarity, help everyone understand their roles and responsibilities, and improve trust. Most importantly, you will all accomplish your mutual goal.
In your experience, what makes an excellent meeting facilitator? What are some of the effects you’ve seen of unskilled facilitation?