Tips & Tricks for Effective Meeting Facilitation

Empty Boardroom

As a long-standing resource for credit union planning session facilitation, we are often asked our advice on improving meeting facilitation. While facilitation is often more art than science, there are considerations that help lead to engaged meeting participants and a better meeting outcome. We’ve shared them in this post. Feel free to use them to your advantage … but if you need help, don’t hesitate to call!

Prepare Ahead For The End Result

In preparing to facilitate a meeting, the first thing to consider is what you hope to “accomplish” at the meeting itself. It you are facilitating a planning meeting, agreement on a plan is an obvious objective, but make sure you understand the context for plan discussion and decision-making. Context can be provided by an established mission or vision, core values, or target market, among other items. If you don’t understand context, then the planning discussion you facilitate stands a bigger chance of resulting in irrelevant or even destructive plans. So first, seek the institution’s contextual boundaries for planning discussion … and know that if there aren’t any, then your first order of business in planning will be to establish a context.

The next order of business in preparing for meeting facilitation is to visualize anticipated meeting activity and engagement. Visualization will help you better understand your facilitation role. Here are few visualizations we often use to ensure we drive proper engagement:

  • Participants actively and intently listening as strategic options are described.
  • Participants sitting back in awe, amazement, excitement, trepidation, and uncertainty as a picture of the future sinks in.
  • Participants actively discussing the future, arguing for it and against it, expressing their joys about it and their fears.
  • Participants rallying around the picture of the future, coming together in excitement about what working for that future will bring to the life of the credit union.
  • Participants leaving with a clear sense of direction and buy-in, with regard to the plan, as well as a strong desire to begin working to make it happen as soon as possible.

It is also important to be clear on what you do not see happening at your meeting. Here are a few things we try to avoid:

  • Rewriting or wordsmithing vision/mission statements.
  • Individual soapboxing.
  • “Third-person” engagement (allowing people to say “what ‘you’ need to do” rather than using “what ‘we’ need to do”).

Engaging Meeting Discussion

As you facilitate discussions it always helps to continuously remember your facilitation goals. Whether that goal is that participants leave wanting to see, and help, a newly constructed plan become reality, or that participants confront critical challenges – remembering your session facilitation goals helps you stay on track. It also helps to share your own facilitation goals with participants so they understand their role in the discussion.

Facilitation often starts with delivering a message. While the are many schools of thought on delivering an effective message, one critical point to remember is that people tend to process information, and engage in discussion, differently. We’ve found success in identifying and grouping participants by type as follows:

  • Supporter
  • Analyzer
  • Director/Controller
  • Promoter

For additional details on these communication/behavioral characteristics, visit http://courses.cs.vt.edu/cs3604/support/Groups/First.Characteristics.html

No matter your personal communication style, it’s best to adapt to the ways in which people in your meeting communicate and process information, rather than expect them to adapt to your style. And believe it or not, we’ve also found that you need to speak to each of the groups making up your meeting participants in a specific sequential order – otherwise people in certain groups will get lost, confused, or defensive. Lost, confused, and defensive are roadblocks to meeting accomplishments.

With regard to order, generally speaking the most effective order of communication both broadly (as in your entire message) and narrowly (as in key message ideas or concepts) is:

  • Speak first to Supporters;
  • Then to Analyzers;
  • Then to Directors;
  • Then to Promoters.

Successful message delivery ensures supporters and analyzers are taken care of as properly, and quickly, as possible. You do not want to leave them behind during subsequent discussion, nor do you want to drive your Directors crazy with circular discussion. Note that on occasion your Directors may become impatient with those Supporters and Analyzers. Be prepared to balance their needs with those of Supporters and Analyzers.

Facilitating Your Own Planning Meeting

Facilitating your own planning meeting is a challenging proposition. Why? Facilitators generally aren’t responsible for proposing or defending strategy. Rather, they are tasked with asking questions and encouraging active participation in responding to questions – and of course, to push participants toward informed decision-making. Because facilitators with their own agenda operate with that end in mind, conversation challenging that agenda is often curtailed. Shutting off conversation, particularly conversation driven by Analyzers and Supporters, is problematic because people need to justify their perspective. Short-changed conversation leaves people in the lurch, and often minimally supportive of the final decision – even if they say they agree.

If you are a facilitator with a board or management team role and have an end-result in mind, make sure participants are aware of your viewpoint – and also that you recognize the challenge you face as facilitator and participant. Such honesty will give you some facilitation latitude. That said, when engaging as a facilitator, ensure you allow time for proper exploration of counterpoints. When sharing your opinion as a participant, make sure others are aware that you are expressing your opinion as a participant and not summarizing group viewpoints. Being clear here will help diffuse defensiveness.

Objective meeting facilitation can be complicated, which is why so many organizations hire outside facilitators such as Glatt Consulting for critical strategic discussions.

Silence is Golden, and Other Parting Tips

Ineffective facilitators hate silence, but silent interludes are when people have a chance to think, process, and form opinions. If you want to be an effective facilitator, don’t be afraid of silence following a question – especially if you’re the one asking the question. Poor facilitators will rush to answer their own question within seconds of asking it if they sense they will not get an immediate answer from the group.

The vastness of big-picture strategic plans requires that you define a place to start executing – especially for your Supporters who will likely be thinking “How are we going to do this?” You can drill down to that “place to start” by first identifying the efforts or activities that are “key to success” of the plan, then by identifying the immediate “next actions” required for each of those key success factors to be realized. Note that developing an action plan full of minutiae is not the purpose here. You are seeking clarity on what is to happen following the planning session, not a list of every conceivable task related to your plan. Define how the plan will move forward once people get back to work. 

Managing overly talkative or highly opinionated people is the toughest part of facilitation – but we have found that often such people already know who they are and are okay with being asked to allow others the time to share their opinions too.

Data can be a great friend, but can also impair the quality of discussion. When too much data is presented, the data itself becomes the object of discussion rather than the ideas the data prompts. Include data that adds value, leave everything else behind, and don’t be afraid to ask people to interpret what they believe incorporated data is indicating in terms of strategic direction or decision-making.

Glatt Consulting Can Help

We’ve facilitated hundreds of meetings, including strategic planning sessions, merger discussions, workforce cuts, and more. If you have a critical meeting and require facilitation, schedule a complimentary consultation with us to talk about our facilitation process. Our participation will ensure your discussion and decisions are effective and supportive of your credit union’s best interests!

Photo Credit: “Empty Boardroom” by reynermedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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