Facilitating Meetings for Profit and Results


Poorly conducted meetings bore participants, reduce profits, and demotivate staff. A well-facilitated meeting enables the leader to get team members to open up and share, drawing upon the minds, backgrounds and experiences of the entire team.

ONE of the challenges for a leader is how to conduct meetings and make them profitable and productive. Poorly conducted meetings bore participants, reduce profits, and demotivate staff. Most managers and leaders rarely, if ever, possess formal training on how to run meetings effectively. Most think they already know how to do it because few of their team ever criticise or offer suggestions to the boss. All continue blindly till "death do us part."

Facilitation by definition is "helping others discover their own answers." This enables the leader to get team members to open up and share, drawing upon the minds, backgrounds and experiences of the entire team.

Few leaders were taught this skill. Their bosses, by example, taught them to run or direct meetings in a command format by doing 95 per cent of the talking. The staff rarely talks unless told to do so and then only share what they think the chairperson wants to hear.

First, a meeting is for a congregating of the minds, not a monologue. If people are not there to share, they should not be there at all. Stop wasting their time and your valuable resource. Just send them the minutes or an E-mail stating what you want them to do or what you want them to know. If you want to get their input and discuss ideas, then hold a meeting.

Collective Mind
Second, the advantage of getting people together is to make use of the collective mind. The mind of many creates concepts and ideas bigger than the sum of the parts. This truth is well illustrated by a cartoon I saw. Three Vikings were attacking a square castle. One said: "Its walls are too high to climb over." The next Viking said: "The walls are too thick to break through."

The third Viking said: "If we had just one more guy, we could surround it." Where one or many may only see problems, someone will see opportunity. Once the blinkers are off, a world of possibilities ensues.

Third, meetings that are directed by a chairperson usually go the way the chairperson wants them to go. This is fine as long as that person is perfect. Are you perfect? I am perfectly imperfect. I've never met a perfect chairperson either.

It is better to have a facilitator run the meeting. His job is to help the group discover their own solutions. Here are top five reasons why facilitation usually outperforms directed meetings.

1) When many people share their ideas, the quality of the ideas is usually better.

2) During facilitation, people have to be involved so no one falls asleep. This means all minds are not only contributing but actually understand what is being discussed and why it is important.

3) Facilitated ideas drawn from the group have group buy-in and approval. The likelihood of ideas being successfully implemented dramatically improves with their approval and buy-in.

4) Ownership is a natural by-product of buy-in. Fewer people say: "Not me" or "Not my job" when they have ownership of the idea and a vested interest in its success.

5) Innovation comes from ownership and not from forced participation. If someone is ordered to do a job, they usually do just enough to accomplish the task and rarely do it differently than how they were ordered to do it. If however, that person understands why it needs to get done, has full ownership of the idea, and is responsible for its success, he will find time-saving shortcuts, ways to improve quality, have the motivation to engage others, is more willing to ask for needed help, and will champion the project.

How do you learn to facilitate meetings?

Through hard work and practice. I know that's not what you wanted to hear. So, here are three quick steps to help you move from directing to facilitating meetings.

Step One: Do your homework. Find out who is attending and what their agenda and personality styles are. Discover who will tend to dominate, who rarely talks, and what their individual key motivators are. Even if you regularly meet these people, take a moment to analyse how they will react in the next meeting based upon the topics to be covered, and how the topics impact them at work and in their careers. Skip this step at your peril.

Step Two: Establish meeting ground rules right at the start. A meeting without ground rules is a train wreck about to happen. The des can be covered in a minute for short, non-confrontational meetings to a solid five-minute discourse for meetings covering dicey subjects like retrenchment, budget cuts, salaries, head counts or other issues.
The four ground rules are:

RuIe 1: Your Role. Make it clear that you are there to facilitate and not to direct the meeting. If you skip this step, they will infer your role as leader and respond accordingly. You are present to help them discover their own answers. If you intend to add comments, do so after they have shared their views.

RuIe 2: Their RoIe. Let them know that no one is to keep silent and that all will contribute. To keep dominators from taking over, put a time limit on each speaker. If the topic is going to be hotly debated, add some rules such as avoid personal comments, stay focused on the topic, and not the speaker.

RuIe 3: The Goal. No sport is any good without a clearly defined goal. If you could kick the ball anywhere or hit the shuttle cock any direction you want, the game would not be very fun to play. Likewise, meetings without a clearly defined goal or outcome will wander. Participants will lose interest and disengage completely.

State the purpose of the meeting, and tell them what you need at the end of the meeting. Get their agreement to this and then proceed to the fourth rule.

RuIe 4: Time Limit. A meeting without time limit will rarely accomplish something productive. Set a reasonable time for the meeting, and have "mile markers" in place along the way. Then appoint a time keeper whose job is to signal you and the group at important portions of the meeting. Doing so will put the group in a bit of a pressure cooker to end the meeting on time.
Some argue that quality will suffer with such tight timing. I have found that quality suffers when there is no clear time limit. People disengage and then no longer contribute their ideas when this happens. Harvard Business Review reported that decision-making is often impaired by too much information and too much time.

Step Three: Make it easy for everyone to share. Rather than expect everyone to speak up, realise that in a group over five persons, some will find it harder to share than others. Who is present also impacts people's willingness to voice their opinions.
Consider breaking your entire group into smaller groups to get input on key subjects. For example, if you have a team of nine, put them into three groups of three, giving each either the same task or differing tasks. You may group them by rank to make it safer for juniors to share their views. Then bring them back and have group reports, task for volunteers or have each individual share their ideas. The idea is to hear everyone's input.

Facilitated meetings are more productive and produce better results than directed meeting.

Michael A. Podolinsky CSP - Developing Passionate Leaders and Teams



Michael Podolinsky CSP is a speaker and published author. He passionately develops productive leaders and teams

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