Leaders spend a significant percentage of their working day in meetings. Some estimates suggest as much as 70%. This isn’t a problem if every meeting held is absolutely essential and the only way of getting something done, achieves its aim and makes efficient and effective use of attendees’ time.
All too often this doesn’t happen. Meetings over-run, get sidetracked and waste time. People who don’t need to attend sit saying nothing, others hog the floor and even when everything possible has been said on a particular topic, some people can’t resist saying it again in their battle to impress the chairman. Attendees get stuck in unhelpful circular arguments, factions form and bad feelings grow.
None of this is new but all too often has either just become accepted as “the way meetings run around here” or is no longer apparent to those in control. Add to this the potential difficulty of giving feedback to the chairman about the way the meeting is run, and the result is a waste of huge amounts of precious time and energy.
An external facilitator will transform your meetings. By focusing on the process of the meeting they allow you to focus on the content and make sure the meeting achieves its aims. They will be neutral about the content and concerned only with managing the way the meeting is run so it achieves its objectives in the time allowed.
Planning the Meeting
The facilitator will agree with the chairman what the purpose of the meeting is and ensure the agenda reflects this aim. They will work together to plan the timing of each agenda item and discuss how it should be introduced at the meeting. They might also be involved in discussing possible participants, either using previous meetings as a guide or by considering areas of expertise, influence etc. required and how best to invite participants to attend. The facilitator may also cover more practical issues such as the meeting venue, necessary equipment, refreshments etc.
Explaining the Process
Once at the meeting the facilitator will outline how the meeting is to be run. They will describe the objectives, the timings and if any particular approaches or methodologies are to be used, what these are and how they work.
The role of the facilitator is not to replace but to support the chairman, so for the majority of the meeting they will simply be an observer whilst the content of the meeting runs its course. If they notice, however, that one or two participants are dominating the meeting, that someone is particularly quiet or that participants are not listening to each other, they will intervene with a suggestion on how everyone can participate in a constructive way.
Creating the Right Atmosphere
The facilitator will be concerned with ensuring participants feel able to raise ideas, make unorthodox suggestions and disagree with fellow participants. They will use techniques to ensure the atmosphere supports this type of behaviour.
New Ways to Look at Issues
Meetings can become stuck in familiar routines and ways of approaching issues. The facilitator will use exercises and methods to get people out of their comfort zone and thinking differently.
The facilitator will be concerned with keeping the meeting to time and ensuring it meets its objectives. If they see it is getting sidetracked they will intervene to bring participants back on track. They might cut short discussions in order to keep the meeting moving forwards. They will make sure sufficient time is available for the generation of ideas, discussion, evaluation and decision making.
The facilitator will frequently summarise where they believe the meeting has got to on a particular topic in order to secure agreement before moving on to the next subject.
If there is a serious argument or conflict in the meeting, the facilitator will manage this. They might suggest a break in order to allow participants to calm down and to enable a discussion with the chairman on how best to get the meeting back on topic.
For the meeting to be successful, it needs to conclude with clear outcomes, decisions and actions. The facilitator will ensure this happens.
Feedback and Review
As the last item before the meeting is called to a close, the facilitator may seek feedback from participants on how they feel the meeting has gone and their suggestions for changes or improvements.