In this blog post we examine various aspects of how to facilitate effective meetings. It’s a topic clients ask us about a lot. But why?
Why Worry about Effective Meetings?
Given trends around the future of work and an increasing
need for innovation in organizations, having meeting facilitation skills is all
the more important. Productive meetings, collaboration, and participation in
decision-making become a distinct competitive advantage as we are required to
work more collaboratively, digitally, and in different locations.
Unproductive meetings are estimated to cost more than $37M USD per year.
Unfortunately, too many meetings lack in effectiveness and productivity. Instead, meetings have a reputation for wasting money and sucking up time. Unproductive meetings are estimated to cost more than $37M USD per year. While most people I know see time as a scarce resource, they keep agreeing to attend meetings that are clearly wasting their time.
An estimated 15% of an organization’s collective time is allocated to
Good meeting facilitation can help reverse this trend.
What is an effective meeting?
An effective meeting has a clear purpose and outcome. One of
the key roles in a meeting is that of the sponsor or decision-maker. Typically
this person is also in attendance at the meeting. This sponsor or
decision-maker is sometimes referred to as a “Client”—one who is motivated to
achieve a particular outcome in the meeting. Thus, an effective meeting, in the
eye of the Client, is one where their outcome is achieved.
The success of a meeting lies in large part with the meeting facilitator.
The success of a meeting lies in large part with the meeting
facilitator. Using their facilitation skills to help the client and the other meeting
participants realize the meeting’s purpose and achieve its expected outcome is
the facilitator’s job.
We’ll go over the skills required of a good meeting
facilitator, but first, let’s take a look at what it means to facilitate a
What does it mean to facilitate a meeting?
The word “facilitation” comes from the word facile, which means working or moving
easily; to make easier or help bring about.
Facilitation, in its simplest definition, is a process used
to run a successful and productive meeting. This process is based on two
- Facilitation helps to support
change in organizations, cultures and society. Research shows that people who
have the opportunity to participate in and influence decisions about their
future have a greater likelihood of supporting those decisions and the
resulting changes. A meeting that is facilitated effectively allows for this
participation, allows many viewpoints to come to the table and ultimately improves
- When we apply a deliberate
process for thinking and we agree to work in a respectful way, we think better
together. Thinking better together results in successful and productive
A facilitated meeting, of course, requires a meeting
What is a meeting facilitator?
A meeting facilitator is skilled in helping a group work together to successfully solve problems, make decisions, and reach the desired outcome. The meeting facilitator plans and supports the process of the meeting. A facilitator is trained to control the process of a meeting, does not provide content and has no decision-making authority.
Since content and decision-making are the bailiwicks of the Client, it is possible for a facilitator to facilitate a meeting where they have no content knowledge. The facilitator helps the group manage the information they already possess or can access[i], and manages the process of interacting with that information through discussion, ideating, using the information to develop solutions and moving towards the desired outcome of the meeting.
Meetings need to be tightly facilitated by someone with the background and training to know what process and facilitation skills are needed and when.
Meetings often involve wide-ranging and sometimes contentious discussion. There is a need to provide ideas, propose solutions, reach decisions and realize outcomes. Meetings, therefore, need to be tightly facilitated by someone with the background and training to know what process and facilitation skills are needed and when. This training leads them to work using professional principles, values and ethics. The International Association of Facilitators has developed industry standards for values and ethics for facilitators.
Who is the facilitator in a meeting?
In a meeting there are typically three parties: the meeting Facilitator,
the Client and the Resource Group.
The Facilitator’s job is to guide the meeting participants
towards the outcome in a way that is inclusive, collaborative and productive.
The Client sponsors the meeting, works with the facilitator to set the desired outcomes, is responsible for decision-making, and provides the background and content participants need to contribute productively in the meeting. Some examples of Clients could be an executive or the manager of a team, an organization or a project.
The Resource Group role can be played by
any number of people. It typically falls to stakeholders or the members of a team
or project, typically the people reporting to the Client. The Resource Group is
responsible for contributing their thinking, ideas, insights, energy and fresh
perspectives to the issues being discussed in the meeting and to the desired
Depending upon the type of meeting, the Client, in the role of team leader or manager, may be tempted to take on the role of facilitator. This poses a bit of a
challenge,because an effective meeting facilitator is content neutral.
Depending upon the type of meeting, the Client, in the role
of team leader or manager, may be tempted to take on the role of facilitator. This
poses a bit of a challenge, because, as explained above, an effective meeting
facilitator is content neutral. The facilitator should have no decision-making
authority or influence on the work of the group, whereas the Client role does.
In addition, the facilitator cannot be a part of the discussion, contribute
ideas, or give an opinion. The facilitator is concerned with the process of the
group interaction only. Obviously, as someone intricately involved in the
content of the meeting, the manager should not take on the facilitation role.
So what do you do when you’re the manager or Client and you
want to also play the role of the facilitator? Assuming the Client is a trained
facilitator, with some skill and planning the Client could play both roles. It’s
important to separate the roles and make it clear when you’re wearing your Client
hat and when you’re wearing your Facilitator hat.
There are other options. If your organization has trained facilitators on staff, draw from them, or give the role of facilitator to another team member. This works especially well for regular team meetings. Alternatively, hire an outside resource to facilitate the meeting.
What does a facilitator do in a meeting?
The facilitator is charged with helping the group reach the Client’s
stated outcome. The facilitator’s role is to plan, design and manage the
process of the meeting and to have the facilitation skills to keep the group
on-course, moving towards that outcome.
The facilitator focuses on creating a balance between participation and results, using fair, open and inclusive means to help the group accomplish their work.
Facilitators play an impartial role in working with the group, keeping them engaged and helping them to contribute their best thinking. The facilitator focuses on creating a balance between participation and results, using fair, open and inclusive means to help the group accomplish their work. In particular, the facilitator will:
- Focus on and facilitate
collaboration, participation and productive dialogue
- Create a comfortable
environment for participation, first by paying attention to creating
psychological safety and secondly by paying attention to the venue, room set-up
and the availability of tools to support the meeting
- Work to build shared
- Level the playing field;
everyone is recognized as having wisdom, something to contribute and an equal
voice in dialogue
- Make explicit how decisions
will be made and by whom
- Provide clarity on expectations
in roles for participation, sharing of information produced during the meeting
and next steps.
How to be a good meeting facilitator
Good meeting facilitators are mindful and purposeful as they
plan and design the meeting. They ensure meetings:
- Have a clear purpose and
- Involve the right people, at
the right time
- Use proven techniques to get
the most out of the time invested.
What separates a good meeting facilitator from an average or so-so facilitator? Training, skills, and experience.
What separates a good meeting facilitator from an average or
so-so facilitator? Training, skills, and experience. Here are some
characteristics that set good meeting facilitators apart from the rest:
- A good meeting facilitator
avoids taking sides.
- During the meeting, the
facilitator should never express an opinion on the matter being discussed or
push for a particular point of view. The facilitator focuses instead on
creating a balance between participation and results.
- A good meeting facilitator
promotes fair, open and inclusive ways of helping the group accomplish their
- A good facilitator works with
the client ahead of the meeting to understand the desired outcome, so that the
appropriate process can be used to facilitate discussion and achieve results.
- Good questioning and listening
skills are key to good facilitation. Without much content knowledge, the
facilitator must nevertheless know what questions to ask to understand
everyone’s viewpoint and make sure that the group understands as well.
- Good meeting facilitators
respect the right of each participant to have an opinion and ensure that
everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. They also respect
the right of participants to opt out of discussions when they feel
- A good meeting facilitator will
use their powers of observation to monitor both the verbal statements and the
body language of meeting participants, to check in with how people are feeling,
and make sure that everyone is still working together effectively.
In terms of tangible skills, a good meeting facilitator will
- Start the meeting on time
- Introduce participants or allow
time for people to introduce themselves briefly
- Review the reason for the
meeting and the objectives
- State the desired outcomes and
share how success will be defined
- Review the agenda, and talk
about the steps or processes to be used during the meeting
- Go over the rules for the
meeting, such as expected norms of behaviour that will guide how participants
will work together.
If you’d like to know more about how to be a good meeting
facilitator, check out this article – Mindful
How to effectively facilitate a meeting
There’s a lot of value in getting people together, focused on the same thing and thinking through issues to keep work moving forward and achieve the organization’s goals and objectives. Meetings are meant to drive productivity in the workplace. However, only meetings that are effectively planned and delivered will fulfill that purpose.
All the facilitation skills in the world won’t lead to effective meetings without the second key to an effective meeting: a well-designed meeting supported by an agenda.
There are two keys to effective meetings. One is effective
facilitation and I’ve discussed many of the traits and skills of an effective
facilitator in this article. But all the facilitation skills in the world won’t
lead to effective meetings without the second key to an effective meeting: a well-designed meeting supported by an agenda.
An agenda should answer four critical questions for
- Why are we meeting?
- What will we be doing?
- How will we be doing it?
- If I attend, what’s in it for
Creating a meeting agenda is part of the meeting design
process. In putting together the agenda, the facilitator:
- Homes in on who needs to
- Communicates how everyone’s
time will be put to good use, how they can contribute, and what they need to do
- Determines what processes,
methodology and tools or technology will be used to increase engagement
- Makes sure invitees are given
the opportunity to opt in or out of the meeting.
A standard agenda includes
- Title of the meeting
- Logistics: location, time and date
- Context / Background
- Agenda items that specify the meeting requirements, such as:
- Information sharing
- Creative discussion
The meeting facilitator should collaborate with the Client
on the agenda. A focused conversation with the Client about the purpose,
outcome, best environment, proposed attendees, process and meeting format help the facilitator to effectively facilitate the meeting.
To help you out, we'd like to give you the same agenda format that we use here at BridgePoint Effect. Click here to get the meeting agenda download.
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About BridgePoint Effect
BridgePoint Effect is an organizational development and innovation strategy firm dedicated to helping organizations thrive through change and innovate to create value. We serve courageous leaders who want to inspire and equip their teams to change, innovate, collaborate and think better together. Our goal is to make it easier for individuals and teams to contribute results for their organization.