10 Essential Facilitation Skills for Meeting Leaders

A lot of meeting leaders think they know how to “run” a meeting. They may set an agenda, do most of the talking and make the decisions. While this may feel easy and efficient, it’s often a waste of people’s time and does not tap into the creative potential of the team.
There are a lot of reasons meeting leaders don’t involve others more in meetings, including a fear of letting go, a lack of belief that others can make a meaningful contribution, or a lack of meeting facilitation skills.
“Facilitation” skills can be learned. To facilitate means “to make easier or less difficult; help forward”.
For a leader to facilitate a meeting (instead of running it), they need to be first be willing to let go of their power and be open to outcomes. Meeting facilitation involves getting everyone involved in identifying and solving problems. Teams will almost always develop better, more creative solutions than any one person could and will be more likely to support the implementation of the solutions.
Then, they need to learn and practice some new skills: meeting facilitation skills. Here are 10 essential skills required to facilitate a meeting, all of which can be learned and improved with practice:
1. Agenda planning. A collaborative meeting starts with agenda planning. Selecting topics that invite participation, i.e., a problem to be solved, is far more engaging that “informational” topics. However, ample times needs to be allocated to allow for group involvement. Good agenda planning (with desired outcomes) should also help determine who should be invited to the meeting.
2. Choosing the right environment and climate. Logistics matter! When people are uncomfortable, can’t see each other, can’t hear, or are hungry, meeting results will suffer. Learn how to use logistics to encourage great participation and remove barriers.
3. Asking questions. Great questions stimulate great discussion. See Leading with Questions by Michael J. Marquardt.
4. Active listening. When a meeting leader paraphrases, checks for understanding, and asks follow-up questions, it encourages more participation and keeps the discussion flowing.
5. Brainstorming. Most people think they already know how to brainstorm. However, they usually don’t, and never really leverage the power of a well-run brainstorming session.
6. Consensus building skills. Consensus does not mean that everybody must agree with a decision. It means that everyone has had a say, heard each other, and has arrived at a decision that they are willing to support. Reaching consensus takes more time, but will usually produce better ideas and more buy-in.
7. Conflict resolution. Whenever there is a roomful of people involved in solving a problem, conflict is inevitable. In fact, conflict is good, way better than avoiding problems. However, a meeting leader needs to learn how to harness the power of conflict in a positive way.
8. Non-verbal communication skills. While researchers argue over the exact percentages, most would agree that greater than 50% of communication is non-verbal, not words. A meeting leader needs to be able to read the group’s tone and body language in order to assess their level of engagement, candor, and commitment.
9. Recording. Skillful group facilitation involves knowing when to turn to a flipchart or whiteboard to capture what people are saying. Doing so makes people feel like their ideas are being heard and are valued and serves as a valuable record to be used for action planning and follow-up.
10. Follow-up. Meeting facilitation doesn’t end when the meeting ends. A well-written meeting summary and action items can help assure decisions that you worked so hard to reach actually get implemented.
Sometimes it makes sense for a meeting leader – especially if the leader is also the person in charge – to “outsource” the meeting facilitation to an outside meeting facilitator that already has all these skills. That way, the leader can just focus on participating and not have to wear two hats (participant and facilitator) or worry about dominating the meeting. Contact me if this sounds like something you’d like to discuss.

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