Meeting Facilitation: Making Meetings Work

Posted on | August 5, 2009 | No Comments

If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

I am often called into organizations to facilitate a conversation, but meeting managers can easily use many of the tools we facilitators use (because anyone running a meeting should be actively facilitating the meeting.) One of the most important and powerful facilitation tools is tracking conversations, which helps keep a group or even an individual on topic until completion.

Why is this useful? More often than not, groups jump around from topic to topic and never resolve anything. They will start on a subject and very quickly start taking “journeys” away from the main topic. One idea sparks another. If unchecked this dynamic can quickly keep the group from every reaching a conclusion. I am sure you have seen this in your meetings. Its one of the major reasons meetings feel unproductive.

All conversations are comprised of threads, which in turn include two important elements:

1. The topic: The subject of discussion
2. The journey: The process of talking about a topic in a sequential way

An example of a thread would be a discussion by a group about who might be selected to run a particular project. The “who might be selected” is the topic. The conversation’s “journey” might entail: outlining the conversation needed, describing the job requirements, developing criteria for selection, brainstorming names, airing reactions to the brainstorm, discussing the pros and cons of a candidate, taking a final vote, and making a plan for how the decision will be carried out. The conversation had a “thread” which included a topic and a journey.

Meetings generally have an overarching thread of their own—the “big” conversation that the meeting is designed to complete. This might be the achievement of a strategic plan or a final decision on a designated topic or any other goal the client has identified. Within that meeting thread there may be multiple sub-conversations or threads that need to be completed in order to achieve the larger goal. The meeting manager or facilitator’s job is to know the desired outcome and to help the group move through the necessary conversations to achieve that outcome.

The facilitator’s ability to track the conversation gives the group a sense of security. The group, through the facilitator, knows where it is at all times. In essence, the facilitator is providing a structure or map for the group to follow. A powerful facilitator knows what conversations are happening at any given moment and where the group is in the conversation—and can help them stay on track.

Sometimes it’s helpful to enlist others in the group to help with facilitation. In some meetings, I ask group members to speak up when they think the conversation has strayed off course. The more aware a group is of the “thread,” the more proficient they will become at managing their own conversations. The more proficient a group becomes, the more productive your meetings will be—and the fewer outside facilitators you will need!


Leave a Reply