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Not all meetings are created equal. Some meetings check in with a team on progress toward a goal. Others impart information from the top down. Still more are brainstorms, seeking input or consensus from several participants with varied viewpoints. With so many voices in the room, how can you create a meaningful meeting that matters?  

A facilitated meeting is led by an objective third party and engages all participants to provide input on a central challenge or question.

A focused and productive facilitated meeting has three essential elements.

First, it has an opening exercise.

The opening exercise asks a question of the group tied to the purpose of the meeting, and serves two important functions. First, right from the start, it solicits meaningful contributions from every person in the room and establishes the expectation of full participation. Secondly, the responses provide the facilitator with a strong baseline of the preexisting attitudes and positions of the meeting members. A skilled facilitator will connect the rest of the meeting to this opening discussion.

An opening exercise is not an icebreaker. It is a temperature check of each team member, and full participation is just as important as the answers provided.

The opening question should tie to the content and objective of the meeting. Often, a “Current Reality” check can be an effective opening exercise. Asking participants “What’s working?” and “What needs improvement?” can reveal common themes and set the stage for the next element of a productive meeting.

Second, it addresses one Focus Question at a time.

This is the meat of the meeting, when discussion proceeds around a thoughtfully crafted Focus Question. Depending on the length of the meeting, more than one focus question might be introduced, but questions should be limited in number (generally just one, but perhaps up to three in a half-day session) and facilitated one at a time. A productive meeting will be very selective and limited in the focus questions addressed.

The Focus Question asks the group about the problem to be solved and should yield actionable responses. Examples include:

  • How do we better message our organization’s core values?
  • How do we attract more young professionals to our organization?
  • What training do new staffers need?
  • What new service should we offer our clients?

The facilitator leads the group through their responses, listening, restating or rephrasing as needed, and grouping ideas on a whiteboard, flip charts or with sticky notes into like categories.

She may then conduct an exercise in prioritization, asking team members to call out the solutions that seem most important, most time sensitive, or most interesting to work on. From this exercise, an action item list with owners and next steps emerges.

Finally, a facilitated meeting has a proper closing.

Briefer than the opening session, the closing puts a bow on the meeting and touches on what comes next. Asking each meeting participant to answer one of the following questions – “What did you learn?,” “Who will you tell?,” and, “What will you do next?” – gives members an opportunity to reflect and take ownership of the solutions presented in the meeting. Ideally, the facilitator will draw connections between responses from the closing to the opening.

Hiring an external meeting facilitator

An external partner is an important component of a productive facilitated meeting. An objective third party will craft an intentional meeting that delivers on the purpose of that meeting.

You might consider hiring a meeting facilitator when:

  • The players are too close to it. For example, if an internal communications department is posing a communications-related Focus Question, the leaders of that department may not be able to both participate and lead the discussion objectively.
  • The people in the meeting are at different levels within an organization. Some employees may be intimidated to speak freely if the boss is leading the meeting. An outside meeting facilitator ensures all staff are equal participants.
  • The discussion centers around a sticky situation. An external partner can help neutralize an animated or even contentious group.
  • Prior discussions have stagnated. Sometimes, internal priorities simply keep plans from moving forward. An external facilitator can help bring clarity in next steps.

With decades of experience convening and aligning people and ideas, Elmore offers meeting facilitation as a service to our clients. Contact us to discuss how Elmore can meet your needs.