Do you ever feel the meetings you're attending waste time? Well, to stop the feeling, you'll need to start applying facilitation techniques. Here's the explanation of those and some hands-on examples for making the most of every meeting.
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Company resources are too valuable to be wasted on ineffective meetings. At the same time, organizing a valuable discussion among many people is not easy and requires certain skills. This is especially important today when most meetings are held online. And this is when facilitation techniques come into play.
Do meetings have to be a waste of time?
Anyone who has experience working in an organization knows it - meetings that go on endlessly, breaking up the rhythm of work, which don't produce any valuable conclusions. Nightmare. According to a survey by the University of North Carolina, 71% of senior managers believe meetings are unproductive and inefficient, and 65% say meetings interfere with their ability to complete their work. Considering that meetings are the default form of information delivery and an inherent form of communication in organizations, something is wrong here. Fortunately, this scenario isn't the only way to go - there are facilitation techniques that will allow you to conduct a meeting effectively and meet your goals in an optimal time.
What are facilitation and meeting designs anyway?
Meeting design is the process of structuring a meeting by preparing a plan that includes an agenda, objectives, topics to be discussed, and information to be obtained.
Meeting facilitation is the process of conducting and moderating a meeting in such a way as to maintain the intended course of the meeting, set the desired tone, meet the objectives, and include all participants. This process is the responsibility of a professional called a facilitator, whose role includes:
- Ensuring that the meeting time is used optimally.
- Involving all participants in the process.
- Remaining neutral during the discussion; the facilitator does not influence the substance or judge which ideas and opinions are good or bad.
- Maintaining the course of the meeting so that digressions do not dominate the discussion.
- Delegating tasks and ensuring that each participant has a role.
- Maintaining a constructive, goal-directed atmosphere.
- Making decisions about the next steps of the meeting.
- Summarizing the discussion and clarifying ambiguities.
- Ensuring that the meeting objectives are met.
What are the benefits of implementing meeting design and facilitation techniques?
Facilitation and meeting design are key elements of running a meeting that is becoming increasingly common in well-organized companies. With the popularization of online meetings, their usefulness has increased even more, as it is much more difficult to keep a group engaged and focused in a remote mode. Meeting facilitation and design allow you to:
- Make all participants feel part of the decision-making process, which positively impacts employee happiness.
- Reduce the number of meetings, thus saving productive team time.
- Gain a broader perspective as all participants share opinions, not just the most active individuals.
- Get specific information and decisions instead of circling a general topic.
- Gain a better understanding of team dynamics and improve the quality of group work.
Facilitation techniques you need to know
To begin, do a short task that everyone will participate in. This will help activate the group and get them to work together. At this stage, the activity need not, and even should not, be related to the topic of the meeting; its purpose is to warm up the brain and build a feeling of belonging to the group. This could be, for example, telling an interesting story from childhood or the best advice someone has ever received, answering the question of what animal you would like to be or what you would do if you had unlimited time and money.
During this part, all participants introduce themselves and talk about what they do. This will help participants to get an idea of the context in which to consider a person's contribution to the discussion and the structure of the group. This point can be omitted when the meeting is attended by people who know their competencies well. On the other hand, sometimes, during a meeting, the element of talking about one's position and experience can be intentionally omitted so that each perspective is fresh and responses can be more creative and presented from a different perspective.
Plan and Agenda
Meeting design is crucial to effective facilitation, so prepare a thorough meeting agenda. Remember that the flow of the meeting needs to have some flexibility, but at the same time, it needs to stay within a certain frame. Some steps will probably take less time than you expect, while others will drag on. When planning a meeting, leave some time for the more critical stages and don't go over the top. Remember that it's better to plan carefully and realistically - meetings are much more likely to last longer rather than shorter than anticipated, and there's nothing worse than working with tired, discouraged participants. The meeting facilitator should have a detailed agenda, while participants can be given an abbreviated version or just a brief description of the activity to retain the element of surprise. Again, take into account the characteristics of the group - creative meetings like brainstorming or workshops have a different character than a strategy meeting.
A clear goal of the meeting
All participants need to know the purpose of the meeting. This is a key element for maintaining motivation and the feeling that the meeting is meaningful. Thanks to this, participants will not only think in a certain way, but they will also be more willing to make sure they don't change the topic or digress too much.
A good facilitator is prepared - this shows that the meeting is under control. The tools that will be needed to complete tasks and subsequent agendas are also an important part of preparation. If participants had to search for needed tools on their own, it would feel disorganized and break the productive flow, so the facilitator should provide all that is necessary. In an online meeting, this could be sticky notes, whiteboard pens, or highlighters, while in an online meeting, it could be brainstorming tools or a mind map.
During meetings, participants exchange a lot of information. If they can't see it, they have to keep it in their heads all the time, making it hard for them to focus on one thing at a time. If they are taking notes, they can't fully engage in the current process. A great facilitation technique is to present the findings and proceedings of the meeting in a simple, visual way, such as a graph, table, mind map, or chart. A regular whiteboard or flipchart works excellent in a meeting, while in an online format, you can use online tools and share the screen with all participants.
Brainstorming is a perfect way to get creative ideas and a fresh perspective. This process allows you to generate a large number of valuable insights in a short period of time, which you can then develop into concrete actions. For brainstorming to serve its purpose, however, you need to follow a few rules. First, there are no wrong answers when brainstorming. Encourage participants to fearlessly propose ideas that may seem crazy or not entirely relevant - at this stage, it is about looking for inspiration, not ready-made solutions. There will be time for critical thinking later. Second, give the brainstorming some direction, but don't lock it into a rigid framework - this will make it easier to unleash creative potential. Third - make a reasonable time limit. Brainstorming can not last too long, time limitation makes participants more spontaneous in their ideas.10-15 minutes will be enough.
During a brainstorming session, many suggestions will be similar or even repetitive. It is a good facilitation technique to organize and categorize them; this way, the ideas collected will have some structure, and participants will feel that they are getting closer to the goal. Also, this way, you can easily see which ideas are most numerous and which issues have been raised most often, which is a valuable clue to where to focus.
It is a good idea to introduce voting for the ideas and solutions that the meeting participants liked the most. You can give everyone 5-10 points to share to see the group's perspective. The important part is that every participant, regardless of position, is equally important when voting. Even if the board makes the final decisions later in the meeting, this will help create a valuable sense that everyone has an impact.
Everyone is included
Every group has different dynamics, and each person behaves differently during group work. The facilitator should avoid a situation where a few people dominate the discussion while the others just listen. Try to involve everyone, observe who has not yet spoken, and ask them for their opinion. Be open-minded and don't put too much pressure, this technique is about encouragement, not coercion, especially since some people may feel insecure and don't like to ask questions. Be attentive to what is going on in the group - if a person can't get through and you see them trying to say something, don't forget about them but address them directly.
Roles in the group
This is a great facilitation technique to make everyone feel needed. Assigning roles to participants is a good way to also engage more shy people who don't want to be the center of attention during the discussion but will be happy to take notes or control the time and help you check the agenda. A very cool technique is also six thinking hats. This is a method proposed by psychologist Edward de Bono whereby six group participants are assigned a role and give feedback on the discussion in a specific way, for example, critical, informative, emotional, or positive. In this way, the discussion can be conducted effectively, taking into account all objections and problems, but none of the participants feels personally attacked because constructive criticism is the role of the person giving it.
Open questions are a way to get participants to talk and argue more and to activate the less active participants. For example, instead of asking "Do you agree with this idea?" (this question can only be answered "yes" or "no"), ask "What do you think about this idea?" to gain insight into the participant's thinking and view.
Sometimes, even if a meeting goes according to plan and agenda, its objectives are not met. Prepare yourself a list of goals for the meeting and mark if any of them have been met, such as deciding on the next steps in the project or assigning people to tasks. This is also a role you can assign to one of the participants.
Many off-topics come up during the meetings. While a little digression now and then is the norm, when there are too many, they can break the whole flow. The facilitator must make sure the meeting stays on track; on the other hand, ignoring topics the group wants to talk about is not a good solution either. Monitor emerging topics and write them down, or assign one of the participants to do so. Side topics that are written down can be brought up at the end of the meeting if there is enough time or even a separate meeting if they are important to the organization or its employees. Let participants know that even if all topics are not covered now, they are saved so they can be discussed later. This facilitation technique will make the group feel that they are accomplishing the intended purpose while also making sure that their opinions and needs are included.
Planning breaks is a key part of longer meetings. It allows participants to get some rest, change the topic for a while and come back with renewed energy. It is also a good time to process what has been said and give oneself time for reflection. Breaks should not be too frequent or too long so as not to break up the flow of the meeting and prolong it. However, the facilitator has to consider the needs of the group, so ask if participants prefer several longer breaks or one longer break and choose the solution that works best for everyone.
When all agenda items have been completed, the facilitator should summarize the findings, decisions, and information from the meeting. This will be a way to verify that assumptions were met and will give participants a positive sense of accomplishment and completion of the task.
Feedback from participants
This is a very important stage during which the participants say how they felt during the meeting, what they liked, what should be improved, are satisfied with the findings, or maybe they would like to discuss something else. This facilitation technique gives participants the feeling that they are important at every stage of the meeting and can honestly share their opinions. Such a possibility provides closure and satisfaction.
Observation and reaction
You may have the best plan and agenda, but the truth is that you always need to maintain some flexibility for change when working with a group of people. Sometimes during a meeting, you will find that the technique you chose doesn't work with a particular group, and you will need to change your approach. Sometimes there may be a conflict between participants that you need to resolve in order not to spoil the mood. Sometimes an unplanned topic will come up without which you cannot move forward with the agenda. Observation and response are key facilitation techniques because only by responding effectively to group dynamics will the meeting achieve its goals.
Facilitation techniques benefit the organization and its employees
Communication is the foundation of any company, yet it is often its weakest point. Facilitation techniques will help you structure your meeting well, use your time effectively, engage your employees and give them a real sense of impact on the organization. Don't waste time in ineffective, frustrating meetings - implement facilitation techniques and watch the magic happen!