The experience of being in a bad meeting is almost universal. A recent study conducted by Verizon showed that employees spend over 33% of their time in conferences or meetings. Much of this time is wasted due to a lack of effective facilitation. Before we elaborate on the concept of facilitation, let’s discuss what makes a meeting a failure – or a success.
Characteristics of a Bad Meeting
Bad meetings are lacking an agenda, a purpose, or a point. They are not attended by stakeholders, but instead by people who aren’t central to the matter at hand, assuming anyone knows what that matter is at all. A few people dominate. Ever fewer are interested in listening. The discussion wanders. When the meeting is finally over, there is no result and someone declares another meeting is necessary.
An effective facilitator can be crucial to the outcome of a conference or meeting. Why? These professionals know what makes a successful meeting: a process, participant interaction, and a goal. Here are some more details about each of these.
Process: Objectives and Agenda
Every meeting starts with an agenda. To help you stay on track, post the objectives and anticipated results of the meeting at the top of the agenda or somewhere else in plain sight. A facilitator will take care to ensure the agenda is timed so the meeting stays on course. It’s rarely a good idea to go overtime. Specific end times offer a strong incentive to keep the event moving.
You must always ask participants if they agree to extend the meeting and if that’s the case, schedule a new end time and don’t go over that. Follow up with participants to recap, set up a timeline for further measures and, of course, thank them for being there.
Sometimes, participants are able to enter into a useful discussion at conferences and meetings, but it is not captured because no one takes notes. You will benefit from a facilitator who makes sure the discussion is recorded and acted upon.
Finding the right setting can be crucial. The location can make the difference between a successful meeting and one that has failed. A well-lit, functional room can yield results that are in stark contrast to a large and airy, but gloomy auditorium. What’s even more important than location? The attendees. The right people need to be present. If you want to make a decision at the meeting, invite people with an interest in the relevant outcome.
Many meetings involve brainstorming for new ideas. A facilitator will encourage group discussion to stimulate creativity and help people with diverse perspectives find common ground. They will engage more reticent participants in different ways, for example with direct questions relevant to their area of expertise. This will ensure everyone at the meeting agrees with the decisions being made and follows through on them rather than passively consenting to a decision just by being present.
Without understanding the perfect outcome, you can’t very well expect to attain it. Ask yourself what needs to happen at your meeting for you to consider it successful. This starts with knowing what type of event you want to have. For instance, are you trying to launch a new project or save a failing one? A facilitator will help you conduct the meeting you need based on your goal.
A Facilitator Brings a Fresh Perspective
Having a variety of perspectives in a decision-making process is crucial to a good outcome. A facilitator will balance between participants who have authority, expertise, information, and resources. The techniques and skills of facilitation that address power dynamics to make sure each and every perspective is taken into account will take you very far in the direction of attaining your goal. Including a wide variety of interests and experiences can also help pinpoint and evaluate possible risks at the stage of planning a conference or meeting.
If you have decided to seek a professional facilitator, do so promptly. The sooner the facilitator gets in touch with the client, the more value he or she is able to offer. Waiting until the last minute will make you miss a big opportunity – benefiting from the facilitator’s experience – even if you have already established a process for your meeting or conference.
Finally, you will benefit from an outside facilitator when the group does not believe the leader’s facilitation will remain neutral or the leader does not need to contribute to the task process.
Choosing the Best Facilitator
Every group has different needs when it comes to facilitation, but there are a few things that are valid across the board. Don’t look for an expert in your industry or the matter at hand. Rather, set your sights on specialist facilitation experience and expertise. When you choose between expert facilitators, look at their familiarity with your company’s work culture. If this comes with sector expertise, make sure you’re really getting a facilitator and not a trainer or consultant.
When selecting a facilitator, make sure you can commit the support and resources necessary to enable a participatory process. Ask yourself if you are ready to assess and learn from the process, listen to the results of the process, give participants timely feedback on these results, and act on them. A facilitator is acutely aware of group dynamics and the expectations involved. Sometimes, it is enough to simply consult or inform people that a decision has been made. Other times, they want to be involved in the process. A professional’s involvement will make managing different stakeholder expectations easier – or possible at the very least.
In line with the International Association of Facilitators’ Core Facilitation Competencies, professional facilitators are able to plan appropriate group processes, build participatory environments, and guide meeting participants to desired outcomes. Effective facilitation can provide you and your team with the tools needed to ensure results are achieved at every meeting. Then, tedious and unproductive meetings are destined to become a thing of the past.
Sylvia Peters is a Collaborator for Find A Facilitator and a mother of two.
She’s dedicated to bringing the most credible, experienced and personable facilitation to every meeting. In her free time you will find her meditating and reading her favorite book.