Well Facilitated Meetings Yield Productive Results: Here's How...

by JD Supra Perspectives

Many of us have been in meetings that didn’t quite flow or lacked a specific agenda and/or goals. Strong facilitators know a well-crafted meeting plan is the backbone of any organized and dynamic meeting. Participants must be fully engaged and focused on outcomes set for the meeting.

The following are some additional ideas to consider when planning your next facilitation with other professionals, clients, and even potential clients.

Facilitation Hints and Options

  • Start on time – end on time.
  • Use lots of eye contact, nod to participants to show they are “heard,” not to show agreement with ideas.
  • Use a pleasant tone in your voice. Be accepting of all ideas.
  • Frame the question – this takes thought before the group assembles. What do you want the group to tell you?
  • Build little agreements along the way: “So, we agree that this is a good way to state the problem we are trying to solve.” Or, “I think we agree that something has to be done, that things are unacceptable as they are now.”
  • Encourage the participants to think and jot down their ideas privately for five minutes before starting the groupthink.
  • Consider placing ideas on flip chart paper alternating between two colors without numbering the items.
  • After all the ideas are captured on the flip chart, review the list by discussing each item briefly. Collapse and condense similar ideas into a single thought.
  • Encourage participants to speak in favor of an idea they believe particularly worthy – or explain why they find an idea troublesome.
  • In certain facilitations, it may be necessary to select the five most important ideas. Have each participant vote privately first jotting down their top five. Then go around the group and mark their ideas on the flip charts. The five ideas with the most checks are the “winners.” 
  • Finally ask: “If we do this, are we in line with our goals?”

Clarification of Issues or Problems 

At times, it will be necessary to clarify the problem at hand. Consider the following ways to effectively deal with clarification and resolution of problems.

Force Field Analysis

Force field analysis is useful for clarifying a problem, and finding solutions responsive to specific obstacles preventing goal achievement. Consider these steps:

  1. Participants are asked to focus on the situation with which the group is concerned – a situation they want changed. They describe in specific terms the attributes of the current state.
  2. Participants then imagine what the situation will be like in five years if nothing is done – the worst-case scenario.
  3. Participants then think about what the situation would be like if something were done – what would the desired state look like?
  4. The next step is to identify the forces driving change and those forces restraining change.
  5. Participants use a problem solving process (facilitation) to remove or buffer the restraints.

Principals of Problem Solving

  1. Let go of the “right/wrong” or “assigning blame” paradigm.
  2. Convey respect to all participants in the problem solving process.
  3. Have a strong resolve to solve the problem together.
  4. Focus on the problem first, and then look for solutions.

At the Meeting

  1. Exchange viewpoints.
  2. Define the general characteristics a solution should have.
  3. Identify sources of the conflict.
  4. Identify goals and hoped-for outcomes: What do you want to happen?
  5. Identify any sub-issues that need to be resolved?
  6. Consider a variety of options for achieving the goals.
  7. Weigh the good and bad of each option: What would happen if…
  8. Make a decision
  9. Develop an implementation plan: Who will do what and by when?
  10. Check back to see if the solution is working.

Basic Guidelines for Giving Feedback

  1. Clarity – Be clear about what you want to say.
  2. Emphasize the positive – This isn’t being collusive in the person’s dilemma.
  3. Be specific – Avoid general comments and clarify pronouns such as “it,” “that,” etc.
  4. Focus on behavior rather than the person.
  5. Refer to behavior that can be changed.
  6. Be descriptive rather than evaluative.
  7. Own the feedback – Use “I” statements.
  8. Generalizations – Notice “all,” “never,” “always,” etc., and ask to get more specificity – often these words are arbitrary limits on behavior.
  9. Be very careful with advice – People rarely struggle with an issue because of the lack of some specific piece of information; often, the best help is helping the person to come to a better understanding of their issue, how it developed, and how they can identify actions to address the issue more effectively.

And finally, meetings should close with identified next steps and follow-up that is specific and time-deadlined stated.


[Merry Neitlich is managing partner of EM Consultants located in Irvine, CA. She can be reached at merry@EMconsults.org or 949-260- 0936.]

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