8 Facilitation Essentials for Having That Productive Meeting

Photo: we collaborate via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: we collaborate via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I know I’m constantly looking for ways to improve the effectiveness and joyfulness of meetings.

Judging from the amount of times I hear people talking about how they try to avoid meetings, I think there’s a few basics we need to keep in mind to have those great meetings we all seek.

Ok so close your eyes and imagine (so make sure to have someone read this out loud through this section).


Unfilling meeting example


You just sat down for your organization’s weekly staff meeting and you are super excited to share some new ideas and make important decisions for the “big project.”

However, the meeting starts with finding out people had many unfinished tasks and by the end of the meeting you are frustrated because you feel like you had a lost voice in the discussion.

Also, since the group had unfocused conversation, the meeting ran out of time with no decisions on moving the project forward.

You walk away thinking “meetings are a waste of time.”


Productive meeting example


The next week you come into the meeting already resigned to another unproductive hour, but you see that there is a facilitator sitting across the the table.

The facilitator starts by asking the group to take the first 10 minutes of the meeting to create shared group norms and you think “here we go again, just more talking.”

Then the facilitator got the meeting going and you saw that people listened, made amiable consensus decisions even if there was not unanimity, and had productive and inclusive discussions.

When the meeting ends early, you are feeling pretty high energy and a little bewildered by how the group was able to start getting stuff done.

You walk away thinking “meetings rock!”


8 Elements of Great Meetings!


So what happened? This facilitator follow some facilitation basics.

Below are the primary reasons that the 2nd meeting was much more successful.

1. Share intentional group norms! Crafting a set of norms (i.e. group agreements or expectations) about how meetings will function will address a lot of issues before they even arise.

Norms, whether you make time to create them or they happen without as much thought, form the basis for group functions. Basically all the following ideas are norms.

2. Have a facilitator! The individual guiding the meeting (NOT leading the meeting) should be focused on drawing out the ideas of the group and making sure the folks at the table listen to each other.

Facilitators should not merely share information, but also ensure a smooth meeting process.

3. Create an agenda! Agendas are structured talking points with meeting outcomes/objectives and suggested times for each section.

Make sure you have an idea of what you need to accomplish since you only have a bit of time during a meeting to get everything done.

4. Take notes and keep track of tasks! Make sure someone takes notes who is not the facilitator (so they can focus on the process) and that they keep track of tasks in a way that is easy for participants to find later (when they look for their tasks from the meeting).

5. Have meetings with varied processes and styles! Meetings should be more than just discussions since folks operate and work in different way so your meetings should too.

For example you could have breakout conversations, places for folks to draw their ideas, sections to move around the room, use games, etc.

6. Decide upon a decision making process! Having a predetermined system (e.g. consensus or majority rules) for making decisions means that the group can agree on a course of action for going forward, without talking back and forth.

Just make sure that your group is not always dominated by a few voices.

7. Set process for having discussion!  Since discussions will be the primary mode of communication during meetings, it is crucial to know how the group will communicate. This can be using hand signals or how the group will contribute ideas or proposals.

For example you can create a norm around raising hands in a “stack” (i.e. having an order of those who raised their hand) or “sparkles”/”spirit fingers” (i.e. silent agreement – to save time by making sure people do not need to raise their hands to say “I agree”).

8. Differentiate between “work” and “decisional/informational” meetings! Everyone does not need to be at each meeting.

Sometimes having a smaller “work” meeting (i.e. getting together to actually accomplish tasks/projects) as opposed to a “decisional/information” meeting (i.e. a place to decide what work needs to be done and any relevant information) can be a great way to jumpstart complex or large tasks/projects.

Also, consider having some meetings being a mix of these different types.

With these main elements in place, any meeting can go from being disruptive/boring to action-oriented/fun!

So what are some ways we can build on these fundamentals? Check out this newly released resource from the AORTA Collective about Anti-Oppressive Facilitation.

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+