“Never Perfect. Always Genuine”. – Lalah Delia
Some people have an innate ability to just assume the helm and guide others within a meeting. They are born with it. They possess the skill, the wit, the charisma , etc naturally and help people get where they need to be. I, however, was likely not innately born with this gift but consciously have worked over the years to cultivate this craft.
If you find that your role necessitates this skill or you have just been the lucky one to do this (or were “volu-told” you were the facilitator as no one else would do it or seems to be able to do so), these are just a few quick steps to help you do the best job possible.
Step 1 – Be prepared to facilitate.
Being prepared means a lot of different things to people as their are “planners” and “wingman”. “Planners” tend to want to have a strong map of how the meeting will go, have the materials they need in place and know how the meeting will unfold. All good stuff right?
“Wingman” go in cold, have a general idea of what they need to do and because perhaps of their ability to speak and interact use this as the basis that will carry them through. They are more often interested in the conversation that occurs than the regimen of a plan.
Well, from my experience, it is always somewhere in-between. No plan comes off without a hitch and endless conversation with no guidance is not something that leads to a productive end. This is why I use the term “prepare”. You can prepare for what you want to accomplish but leave room for things to just happen. I look at this like having some basic car emergency supplies. I have the basic items I feel I might need, jumper cables, road flare, small medical kit, however, I could need more. I personally would never say “I’m covered” and not take my phone to call a tow truck or say, “I am experienced in life and the experience of the open road” and just say, I don’t need anything as I can handle it as it comes. This provides me with options and a choice of how to proceed, or deviate, in the face of some emergency.
So what do I mean when I say “be prepared to facilitate”?
- Do your best to know your audience. Do you understand their business or can you relate the goal of the meeting closer to them so everyone can share a vision. Do you have dominant talkers or people you have to draw things out from. You may not get this insight and have to read the room but understanding the players of the meeting can be helpful even if you do not know the entire room.
- Prepare in a reasonable manner. – Are you going to lead the group? If so, know how this will unfold and be prepared to deviate as needed. Have post-its, whiteboards, markers, etc. Possibly even provide Kinesthetic items for people to occupy themselves as some people think while their physical is engaged differently without creating distraction. For some people this helps them focus and process information.
- Establish some boundaries of the meeting up front. – Try and meet with the key sponsors of the meeting and negotiate with them boundaries for the meeting forr success. What I mean is establish general interaction policies such as “will you allow cell phones and laptops/tablets in the meeting” or will you provide as part of the agenda (based on the group) a recurring break to check these devices. Will you use the “you are an adult policy” and allow them to step out and take calls or leave to use the restroom at any time? Can you clearly state that the meeting will proceed and that if they not present, the work will move ahead with or without them? When is lunch (is it provided)? What are the schedules of the people can they commit to an all-day meeting or is it better to hold small targeted “mini summits”?
- Do the pre-work for the meeting whenever possible. – Establish an agenda and understand the goals and actionable items that the meeting is trying to reach. This will allow you to have a defined boundary to redirect conversation or to keep people moving towards an end goal. Make it visible at the start of the meeting and cover it upfront like making a contract with the meeting. Ensure that you clearly state the goals and actionable items that the meeting is seeking to achieve. Repeat deliverable expectations at least 3 times if necessary to solidify the importance of those needs if possible.
- Use the concept of a parking lot to table off-course ideas. – Gino Wickman, author of the Enterprise Operating System (EOS) indicates that in a discussion that in his system, that a general rule is the “rule of 3 times”. If a person states a point, reiterates the point, once they state it again, they are merely politicking to sway others to their side of opinion. Be keenly aware of this. We have all been in a meeting where Bob states the same thing over and over and everyone silently thinks “here goes Bob again, blah, blah, blah, blah …”. Help keep the flow of the meeting going by acknowledging Bob’s point but suggest if off tract or bogging down the meeting that to ensure that the goals of the meeting are met that we note his valued point or concern but that to stay on track, we may need to move along and circle back around to it once we achieved our goals. This can be tricky, Bob needs to understand that you hear and value his comment but that for the good of the meeting, we have to keep moving forward. This can be especially tricky if Bob is a “C” level executive but in doing this you are courteously acknowledging his point, keeping it visible but steering the meeting to the end objective and demonstrating your commitment to the meeting satisfying its goals. Indicate items that may need their own potential meeting if the topic goes deeply enough.
- Move big items out of the way in lieu of progress. – As you go through items, occasionally you will encounter an item that in the scale of “solve world peace” which someone thinks is reasonable discussion topic. Whereas on face value the topic is truly valid (who wouldn’t want to solve world peace) the overall scope may be far too large to make any real tangible progress on the topic. Unless you are going to take this epic level idea and indicate small actionable steps to move in this direction, you will unlikely (even in an all day meeting) solve world peace. Accept this and move it to an area for later decomposition or create a breakout session to breakdown more tangible goals.
- Let healthy debate happen – One of the most difficult things to do (and I always have to be aware of myself in this behavior) is “being silent” and listening as debate happens so you can distill the end point. As human beings, we often very social in nature and interaction is something that is hard for us to suppress. It is often difficult (especially when trying to help people reach a goal) to remain silent and allow them to discuss their positions and even openly disagree. It’s hard not to “find the peace” when people are openly disagreeing. Listen to the flow of the disagreement and see where you may need to interject to parking lot the disagreement or possibly summarize the key point of disagreement, gain acknowledgement of the point, make it visible and move on. Read the room, what is everyone else doing during this? Have they disengaged. Actively work to not lose the momentum of the whole room because of this disagreement.
- Be the introvert’s advocate! – If you observe dominant talkers in the room, try and find ways to engage others and for those that you may feel are providing little input, seek ways to get confirmation or dissent from them by asking “do you think might work” or “I would be interested to say what (person) has to say”. Work to create ways to give the entire room a voice. Explain to the group up front how you may redirect someone if you see that a person is being silenced or having their thoughts completed for them. Be courteous but be vigilant to get the right ideas to the table.
- Respect the time box. – Start the meeting when it is slated to start (giving human error leeway), take breaks early or when scheduled and ensure you are consciously focused on getting actionable items identified wrapped up and recapped by the close of the meeting. Do not disrespect people’s time by keeping them longer nor allow others to disrespect time waiting for people to come straggling in. State your appreciation and contract to respect people’s time and honor that commitment.
- Recap the event. – Ensure that you recap the accomplishments of the event by closing action items (or doing so recurring to show progress), state any action items and owners to shepherd the items outside of the meeting, state outstanding items with a plan of intent to address them. Thank everyone for their time, attention and participation and wrap up the meeting.
These are just a few helpful tips to think about when placed in a situation of facilitating a meeting that can help you be more successful and work to achieve a stronger outcome.