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The Meeting Facilitator's Role

In my opinion, the meeting facilitator’s primary role is to optimize meeting productivity. Well-structured meetings chaired by a competent facilitator can help keep attendees focused and engaged, hold people accountable for performance, support the decision-making process, and assign clear tasks to advance progress. Before giving you some of my recommendations for meeting facilitators, let’s review The 5 P's of Productive Meetings:

Meeting_Facilitation
  1. Purpose.

Participants should know why the meeting is being held. What is the desired outcome of this meeting? The purpose should be worth pulling people away from other productive work.

  1. Preparation.

Metrics (KPIs) need to show the current score. Projects and Tasks need to be updated to reflect the current reality. Every participant should come prepared to discuss their performance and share their personal perspectives in order to achieve the meeting’s purpose.

  1. Process.

Every meeting should have an agenda that describes specifically which topics will be discussed,  in what order, and for how long, so participants know what to expect and how to prepare.

  1. Participation.

Limit the number of participants to those who “must” be involved, not those who would “like” to be involved. Most research recommends fewer than 10 people (with 5 to 8 being optimal). Only invite those whose knowledge and buy-in is essential to the decision-making process. The facilitator must ensure every participant is given the opportunity to speak and be listened to.

  1. Progress.

Participants must be held accountable for completing prior tasks and achieving agreed performance standards. Agenda topics are discussed and debated. Decisions are made and documented. New tasks are assigned. Everyone should leave the meeting with clarity about what needs to be done, by whom, and by when to advance progress.

Who Should Be the Meeting Facilitator?

There are different schools of thought on this. Some suggest rotating the duty so that everyone gets to develop meeting facilitation skills. Others suggest that only the person most qualified and competent should perform this role.

My opinion is that the person best suited for the role should be the meeting facilitator, at least in the beginning. Sharing duties should only be considered when meetings have reached the point where they are well structured, disciplined, and where a high performance, high accountability culture has been indoctrinated into the team.

In small-medium sized businesses, the CEO or team leader often self-selects as meeting facilitator, but this should not be a given. My recommendation is to pick the most structured and disciplined person on your team to facilitate. Someone who is assertive enough to enforce the “meeting rules” and hold people firmly accountable for achieving the agreed performance standards. I have seen many examples where having someone else facilitate meetings has freed the CEO up to observe group dynamics and participate in the decision making process more effectively.

Meeting “Rules”

It is a wise investment to clarify the rules for each meeting upfront so participants know exactly what is expected and how to conduct themselves accordingly. A set of agreed rules will help optimize meeting productivity. It is then the meeting facilitator’s role to enforce the agreed rules.

Some common areas that are worth creating rules for include:

Preparation

Pre-work that participants must complete prior, or bring to the meeting

Agenda

What will be discussed, in what order

How long will be allowed for each agenda item 

Process for dealing with introduced topics that are off the agenda  

Timekeeping

Start time. Scheduled breaks. Stop time. 

Consequences for being late 

How time will be kept during the meeting, and by whom

How time limits for each agenda item, and the overall meeting, will be signaled and enforced

Note Taking

What information will be captured, by whom, and where these notes will reside as a permanent record

Accountability

Performance standards and expectations (Metrics, Projects, Tasks etc)

How below standard performance will be discussed and dealt with

Participation

Use of technology during the meeting (computers and phones etc)

How external interruptions will be dealt with (phone calls, staff interruptions etc)

Level of attention and active listening expected 

Who gets to speak. In what order.

How to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to speak without being interrupted

How to make it safe for people to say what they really think without ridicule or disapproval

How to ensure talkative people do not unduly dominate discussions

How participants will be dealt with if they ramble, go off topic, or act in a disruptive manner

How to “fight fair” when passionately debating the issues

Decision making

How decisions will be made, and by whom

Follow up process to ensure decisions are implemented and tasks carried out post meeting

Expectations about participant conduct and support of decisions post meeting

Examples of Rules

All the items listed above need to be clarified with clear rules, but here is a small subset of the rules I commonly incorporate in my meetings in case they are of interest to you:   

  • The meeting starts exactly on time
  • Anyone who is late (including the CEO) must donate $5 to the team social fund
  • Phones must be turned face down and set to silent. No multitasking.
  • Name the ultimate decision-maker in the room
    • It always pays to clarify this up front, especially when facilitating strategic planning. I let the participants know that they will all get the opportunity to participate in the debates, but I will stop the debate at the end of the allocated time and ask the leader/decision-maker to make a clear decision
  • Only 1 person is allowed to speak at a time
  • Off topic items will be “parked” and a follow-up task assigned to one of the participants start the resolution process post meeting
  • Passionate debate is encouraged. But you must listen with respect. Hear the other person out without interruption before replying
  • Disagree then commit. You are allowed to disagree during the debates, but everyone must commit to the final decision the leader makes.
  • Unified front. No undermining or criticizing of decisions after the meeting will be tolerated
  • A Task is a promise. You are expected to keep your promises
  • Due dates are “musts” not “hopes”. Give conservative due dates the team can count on

These are just some of my rules. Of course, there are many different types of meetings and your rules may vary accordingly.

Here are some agenda guidelines I have put together that clients have found useful for some common weekly meeting scenarios:

 Webinar: How Much Time Is Your Company Wasting in Meaningless Meetings?

Topics: Meetings

Stephen Lynch

Author of the award winning business book Business Execution for RESULTS & President of RESULTS.com, Lynch is an internationally known Strategy Consultant and a contributing writer for The Economist magazine.

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