Category Archives: Effective Meetings

Do You Need A Meeting Facilitator?

What is a Meeting Facilitator and do I need one?

I have seen the term “facilitator” used in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it is used to mean a trainer.  Other times it means the same as moderator.  What is your definition?

My definition is a blend of many others I have seen through the years plus my own emphasis.  Here it is:

A facilitator is someone who contributes structure and process to meetings so groups and individuals are able to function effectively, think productively, and make high-quality decisions.

Do You Need a Meeting Facilitator?

Facilitation is a skill that focuses on upgrading the process of meetings in order to improve the quality of the meeting results. A trained and experienced facilitator understands meeting dynamics and brings to bear techniques to ensure the client gets the desired outcome. She or he is responsible for harnessing the group’s energy and setting it to work on a given task.

Management of organizations is not easy in an era characterized by constant change and an unpredictable political and economic environment. A professional facilitator can help a team or organization move forward productively, whether on a single topic or a strategic plan. Typical instances where a facilitator can make a big difference include:

  • If you are scheduling a strategic planning “retreat” to decide where your
    company, organization or department is going over the next three to five years
  • Having a neutral or unbiased meeting guide would enhance the discussion
  • If you want innovative thinking on a recurring task
  • If critical meetings go on and on without a decision
  • When you have lots of ideas but can’t get them to solution stage

A professional facilitator can help a team or organization address and manage challenges creatively and productively.

Best Times to Meet

When To Meet?

Sooner or later, we are involved in the discussion of “when to meet”.  Meetings held within your company can be easier to schedule than in non-business situations.  But not always.  I have worked in many organizations where the hardest part of the meeting was scheduling the next one!

In order to have meeting participants in attendance, on time, and prepared, give careful thought to your meeting time.  Elements to consider include:

  • availability
  • facilities or location
  • time required to prepare
  • deadlines related to the content
  • connected events
  • and probably more

Obviously, avoid late afternoons before a holiday or the first morning after a holiday.  Friday afternoons, in the US, can be problematic because people may plan to leave early or are mentally getting ready for the weekend.  Most research suggests a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday are best.  Morning tends to be the best time of day because most people are more alert then.

Non-business groups or volunteer associations such as professional societies or community commitments often have to meet outside of normal work hours.  This can present a challenge.  Usually, they meet either in the evening of a weekday or early morning (pre-work day).  Again, if you meet in the evening, earlier is better than later to get the full energy and brainpower of attendees.  If you meet before work, make sure the meeting ends with enough time for participants to leave and reach their workplace or you will find your attendees disappearing before your agenda is complete.

So, rather than shoehorn a meeting into time that is open on everyone’s schedule, look first for the time of day and day of week.  THEN pick the exact time that works for everyone.

Effective Meetings Need the Right Attendees

Are the Right People at Your Meetings?

When you arrange a meeting, make sure you invite the right people.  (And ONLY the right people since most meetings have more people in attendance than need to be there.)

Who are the right people? They should meet one or several of these criteria:

1.  Have expertise or experience in the topic(s) to be addressed

2.  Are responsible for implementing decisions made in the meeting

3.  Have influence within the organization as to the success of the results (they can make OR break the idea or decision)

4.  Can make valuable contributions to the quality of thinking in the meeting (perhaps he or she is very creative or skilled at summarizing discussions or understands the company strategy, etc.)

Are there other criteria you have found to be helpful in determining who should attend your meetings?  Mention them in the comments section below.

Hold Effective Meetings

How can you make your meetings work?

There are a few key elements that will make meetings better – that is, more effective and enjoyable.  Stick to these and you will experience significant improvement in your meetings.

  1. Make sure everyone knows why they are in the meeting.
  2. Start the meeting on time.
  3. Stay focused on the agenda items.
  4. Encourage participation.

If you commit to these four principles, I promise that you will find participants praising you for the quality of your meetings!

Meeting Breaks

Take a break!

If your meeting will be longer than 90 minutes, you need to plan a break. If you do not, you run a high risk of participants getting fatigued and tuning out. Or even disappearing entirely.  If nothing else, they need a biological break!

When to schedule breaks and for how long?

Look at the amount of time you will need for your meeting.  Consider your agenda.  Anecdotally, I have found that people need a “bio break” more often when the content of the meeting is dull or one-way (someone talking at them) rather than in an interesting discussion.  Your experience may differ.  Also, will your agenda permit a break between topics or can you combine two or three, if short, to allow a good breaking point?

Keep breaks to a maximum of 15 minutes. A lot of time can be lost while people run “for a minute” to get coffee or a soda or worse, a phone call. Sages say,
“There is no such thing as a 5-minute break.”  Before anyone leaves the room, tell them how long the break will be so they can police themselves.  If necessary, ask for a volunteer to round up attendees two to three minutes before the end of the break and then herd them back to your meeting.

An alternate “break” can be simply allowing people to move around the room to keep the blood flowing.  For example, having the group stretch or interact briefly with people sitting near them is a good  technique.  I often pair people up for short thinking exercises at key points to boost the energy.

Consider having refreshments in the meeting room so participants stay put and breaks do not stretch beyond the allotted time.

If you have an additional way you use or plan for breaks, please share it in the comments section.

Shorter Meetings Are Better Meetings

Ways to Shorten Your Meetings

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is that meetings run too long.  Often, this is because agendas are too full or discussions wander.  You can handle these problems in the meeting (and you’ll see other posts in this blog about this also).  Here are five strategies to shorten your meetings:

1.  Determine the average salary of people in the room and then project the amount of money being spent during the meeting on a laptop or projector somewhere in the room.  People become aware of the cost of going off-topic or unproductive discussion and manage their input to be more concise and focused.

2.  Eliminate distractions. At the start of meetings, ask attendees to turn off phones, laptops, etc. during the meeting.  Hold them to this.  If someone is sneaking a peek at their email, point out the behavior.  Consider confiscating the devices at the start of the meeting or when people ignore the guideline.  Close the blinds on the windows facing into the larger office.  Turn off the phone in the conference room.

3.  Set clear guidelines for behavior. Include items such as “share airtime” to prevent people from dominating conversation.  Another item might be “stay focused on the agenda item” and when people  wander away from that topic, point out that the guideline is to keep on-topic.

4.  Make the planned time shorter than usual.  Remind attendees that this meeting will be fast and efficient and they will be done sooner if they operate within the time limit.

5.  Have fewer agenda items. Rather than cram everything into one meeting, hold two shorter meetings a week apart and address only one or three topics instead of five or six.

Try these out and let me know how they work for you (in the comments section below or just email me).  Also, feel free to share additional methods you have used to shorten your meetings.


Gap Analysis Technique in Meetings

Meeting Technique for Getting From Here to There

Have you been in a meeting intended to figure out how to get from where you or the organization are to where you want to be?  One way to achieve your objective is to do a Gap Analysis. Businesses often use this technique to compare actual performance with potential performance.  The analysis provides insight into areas that can be improved to achieve a goal.

What is a Gap Analysis? It’s a way to identify the obstacles preventing achievement of a desired goal.

What does it do? Gap Analysis encourages exploration of the gap, or obstacles or blocks that are in the way of your objective.  It forces a realistic look at where you are at present and helps identify the specific actions needed to be taken in order to be successful

How does it work? Gap Analysis creates alignment among team members through discussion of each obstacle because people begin to understand what steps are open to them and make decisions given that shared understanding.

Steps of Gap Analysis:

1.  Identify the desired objective. You might do some visioning on this or imagine magazine articles detailing the achievement or use any approach that captures a mental picture of where the group wants to be in future.  Post the picture or phrases on a flipchart and place it on the wall.

2.  Identify the present situation. Create a detailed picture of what exists today.  If possible, see what the elements identified in Step 1 look like today.  Again, write this on flipchart paper and post it on the wall.

3.  Focus on the gap between what is now and what is desired.  Identify the gaps/barriers.  Is anything missing that is necessary to bridge the two mental pictures?  (This can be done in small groups so that you move forward quickly.)

4.  If the group was broken into sub-groups, come together into one group and share the identified gaps/blocks/obstacles.  Again, write these up on a flipchart and post them.

5.  Have the group review all the gaps and reach a rough agreement on the key problem ingredients.

6.  Divide the group into smaller groups and have each sub-group focus on a gap and generate ideas to address it.

7.  Come back together as a single group and share recommendations and action plans.  Get new ideas from the full group on what they hear.

8.  Create an overall action plan that will move the group forward to addressing the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.

Meeting Room Arrangement

Does your meeting room help or hinder your meeting?

When you are arranging a meeting, give thought to what size room is necessary for the full group.  Also, how should the furniture be arranged to support the meeting topic and set the tone you desire?  Is a boardroom style better than a U-shape arrangement?  Would a casual, living room-style setup be more appropriate?

Make sure the chairs are comfortable if you’re asking people to stay for more than an hour.

Also, decide if the meeting is best held on-site or off-site.  Off-site locations tend to be best for creative problem solving or brainstorming because the new environment and fewer interruptions enhance focus and creative thinking.