We’ve all been in retreats or meetings that go off the rails, are unproductive or unnecessary.  Why? Poor planning, lack of an agenda and insufficient management of the conversation. As  a result, meetings are viewed with dread as time wasters, and opportunities to tap into the collective wisdom of teams to identify solutions and advance fresh thinking that opens up possibilities for business growth are missed. Worse yet, a poorly run meeting can deepen disagreement and discord. 

An experienced facilitator can help organizations avoid the awful meeting syndrome. Here’s how:

Facilitators bring objectivity 

A good facilitator is neutral and unconnected to internal politics that often derails group process. Objectivity is important because it allows the group to work through solutions and ideas without a predetermined conclusion. Nothing is more frustrating to participants than to be asked for their thoughts and ideas. Only to be ignored or shut down if they don’t fit with where the organizer wants to go. 

Facilitators foster participation.

Skilled facilitators ensure that everyone in the meeting has an opportunity to speak and be heard. They know how to create inclusive environments where participants feel valued and respected. Facilitators know how to accommodate a range of personality types, learning and communications styles. Facilitators have a toolbox with a variety of exercises and strategies that spark participation. They also take into account issues of accessibility for those who may be vision or hearing impaired or have some other disability. 

Facilitators Keep Meetings on Track

Facilitators provide structure, working with teams to create an agenda and keep the conversation focused on the agenda and the goals laid out at the outset of the meeting. If in the course of the discussion, the goals shift, the facilitator can help the group manage the shift in a new direction. 

Facilitators Manage Group Dynamics

Groups like individuals have distinct personalities. A skilled facilitator knows how to manage conflict and tensions that arise during conversations. They know how to manage the person who talks too much as well as those who don’t want to talk at all. They create a safe space where participants can share their thoughts and opinions without the fear of judgment or retribution. Facilitators work to avoid groupthink ,where group members make irrational or less optimal decisions because they feel they must conform or that disagreement is impossible. 

Facilitators Encourage Co-Creation and Group Ownership of Decisions 

Facilitators go further than eliciting a broad spectrum of ideas and opinions from the group.  They also work to encourage the group to consider new ideas and approaches they have not considered. They will work to guide the group through disagreements and resistance to uncover creative solutions. And they do not manipulate to get the group to a predetermined conclusion. 

Facilitators Provide a Record of Results and Next Steps

Facilitators capture the ideas, issues, questions and concerns that emerge from the conversation. Facilitators provide a summary of the meeting that can guide groups and teams on their next steps which may include unresolved issues. 

Well designed and meetings whether virtual or in person can spur meaningful collaboration, enhance the esprit de corps so essential to positive cultures, and lead to breakthrough ideas that strengthen organizations. An objective, experienced facilitator can guide teams to achieve results, saving time, money and heartache.