Facilitating…the art of making a task easier.

Organizations frequently undertake a meeting for committees, strategic planning, action planning, making a decision or other reason for more than one person to work together.   So many times,  one or two people have in their mind, what the answer is before the question is asked.   They are blind to what others think,  what obstacles are in their way, and how the knowledge of the group together can be an incredible powerful solution.  Leaders need to get out of their own way to let the processes of the group knowledge work.  

A typical  “self centered”  meeting may go something like this.  

  • First, you want to tell everyone what you think should be done. 

  • Secondly, you want to tell everyone what you think about what everyone else thinks.

  • Third, you want to tell everyone about how you feel about what other people think.

  • Lastly, you decide you are upset because your way was not the chosen way or as the leader of the group, you choose the easiest path of least resistance.  


Why are we here?
A “focused facilitated conversation” would be different. It is more of a leadership method of running a meeting.  The initial step is to decide why you are all in the same room.  Post in a visible place the question that is the driving focus of the meeting.  It brings everyone together and they know why they are there.  It gives you a visual frame of reference. If the conversation gets de-railed, you have a landing spot to bring it back to the reason for the meeting.  If you don’t have a decision to make or work to be done together and it is simply a “reporting out” meeting, then  would suggest you distribute the reports electronically.  You could follow up that distribution of reports with a meeting if action needs to be taken on the information.  Otherwise, I would simply save peoples time and they will value your meetings more when you make the best use of their time.


People Like to Be Heard
We all acknowledge that most people like to talk and be heard.  Some are shy and only like to talk to one or two people at a time and will not feel comfortable talking in front of a group.  They especially not like to look ignorant in front of their peers.  A great meeting starts with sharing where everyone “is” at that moment.  Ask a question that is easily answered and allows each person to have a voice and establish credibility. Each person’s perspective of why they are there or what is going on that day is different.  Each of those perspectives have an influence on the outcome of the meeting as well as the understanding from the group of each persons point of view.   If  you are reviewing an event or document,  you might want to simply ask, “What role did you play in this project?” or ” What were some of your individual assignments?”  Each person deserves an opportunity to share their participation and  input.  By acknowledging their participation, you are validating that they are an integral part of the “team”.

What Stood Out?
An important part of the process is offering the opportunity for participants to share what was important about this project or event.  You may want to ask each person to pick out something in the report or event that they remember the most.  The relevance of what is recalled by each person is important.  All perspectives will be slightly different. Each of us is working with a different “scene” in our heads and this is an opportunity to know what is important to the others. 

Drive Change
Information is not useful unless it drives change.  What is the impact of the information your meeting is sharing?   How does the information shared affect the outcome of the committee, project or event?  You may want to ask a question such as, “How will this information we talked about today, affect our committee goals?”  or “what issues do we need to resolve to move forward?”  The group is then taking the information it has learned about,  internalizing it and picking out parts that need to be further addressed.  It saves you from reviewing every piece of data whether relevant or not.  It allows you to quickly surface issues that need to be addressed.

Take Action
Lastly, making a note of the issues brought up in the previous step,  ask the group,  what should we do next?  or what should we do with this report at this time?   These are actionable items that “close the loop”.  You have shared information, personalized it for each person,  gotten feedback and reflection and now as a group you are deciding, what next?

Participatory planning like this is the basis of the Technology of Participation (Top) Methods of Facilitation. The methods can be used in person or virtually.  If your organization would benefit from a meeting using a facilitator, look for a ToP trained facilitator.  If you want to learn more about how to use these methods within your own organization,  attend a ToP training event.  

You can find more information on ToP training at www.top-training.net.

Laurie Dougherty, CAE
ToP Trained Facilitator

Comments on: "Another Meeting? Why Are We Here?" (1)

  1. Thank you, Laurie. Really appreciated this practical information on meetings expressed in a fresh way. I will share it with our community of practice group today!

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