Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.
What is meeting facilitation?
To facilitate a meeting is to ensure that it runs well, no bridges are burnt, and all goals are met.
It’s really not that difficult, but many of us have at least once found ourselves in a meeting that was:
- Pointless: You didn’t know why you needed to attend that meeting in the first place.
- Fruitless: The meeting had some objectives but failed to achieve them at the end.
- Dictatorial: One (or some) person ruled the meeting, and no one else had a say.
- Boring: It made you feel like you were a chatbot talking to other chatbots to get the work done.
Now it’s your turn to hold a meeting. How can you save your meeting from those pitfalls?
Below is our tried-and-tested checklist to ensure you will have the most effective and fun meeting ever!
What does a meeting facilitator do?
Understand your role as a meeting facilitator
As a facilitator of a meeting, your role is to organize the logistics, set out the objectives and agenda, and, most importantly, moderate the discussion in a way that helps achieve the meeting’s objectives.
To under-facilitate is to think your job is done once you send out the invitation and book the room. No, it isn’t.
To over-facilitate is to think everything is about you. Being the meeting facilitator doesn’t mean that you need to raise more ideas or make the final decisions. Remember that your job is to encourage the participants to voice their ideas and come to a final conclusion together.
Useful skills for a meeting facilitator
Don’t get us wrong, you don’t need any special talent to be a good meeting facilitator.
Think of the skills below as seeds already existing within you, and with some extra water and sunshine, you will find yourself improving them in no time!
- Critical thinking: To set out strategic objectives and agenda for the meeting.
- Active listening: To really dive into different perspectives and encourage everyone in the group to speak.
- Assertiveness: To bring everyone back on track when things are going off-topic.
- Neutrality: To not pick sides and help every meeting participant feel that their presence and opinions are equally respected.
Before your meeting
At FlexOS, we call the first four tips FAIR, which stands for Format - Agenda - Invitees - Report. FAIR is crucial in preventing meeting overload because it reminds us to keep every meeting purposeful, concise, and action-oriented!
Meeting facilitation tip 1: Choose the right meeting format
First of all, ask yourself the real hard question: Can this meeting be an email?
We suggest a meeting can be an email when:
- You simply want to announce information to your team, and you don’t need their input.
- The problem at hand is related to your team’s BAU (business as usual) projects, and with a brief guide, your team will know what to do.
Once you’re sure you need a meeting, you can consider the following:
- An online meeting: Thanks to the invention of virtual meeting platforms and collaboration tools like Miro or Mural, we honestly think online meetings can be better than in-person meetings, especially brainstorming sessions.
- It’s much more convenient when you have an unlimited whiteboard, and everyone can input their ideas on the board simultaneously.
- A face-to-face meeting: However, if the purpose of your meeting is to build relationships or improve weak spots in your team dynamics, nothing beats the sparks of human connection in an in-person meeting.
Meeting facilitation tip 2: Create a purposeful and engaging agenda
Your meeting agenda may follow this structure:
- Meeting objectives: What do you want to achieve after this meeting? Make it specific!
- Discussion points: If possible, have an allocated amount of time for each point to ensure you have time to cover everything. (Remember that meetings are most effective when they last around 30 to 60 minutes).
- Preparation for the invitees: Are there materials people need to read before coming to the meeting? Anything you want your participants to mull over beforehand?)
Ensure you send out the agenda early so your participants have enough time to arrange their schedules and prepare. (This is especially important with the highly sensitive people on your team who don’t prefer being put on the spot!)
Meeting facilitation tip 3: Include the right invitees
Sometimes, exclusion is a good thing. When planning for a meeting, you want to ensure that only those who contribute to the meeting goals are included.
If irrelevant people are invited, it’s a waste of their time, and you will hear more “noises” in the meeting, which prevents you from seeing things clearly and achieving the meeting goals.
Of course, there are cases where the irrelevant person wants to be invited and deems the exclusion disrespectful. If so, you can offer to send them the meeting recap afterward!
Meeting facilitation tip 4: Choose a smart way to report
A recap of the discussion and decisions made in your meeting are crucial in guiding your team on the next actions.
Traditionally, a person will be assigned to write the meeting minutes and send out a recap afterward. This approach can be problematic because it prevents the note-taker from fully participating in the discussion. And well, it’s simply quite a boring task to assign to anyone.
Luckily, we’re living in a time when A.I. note-taking bots are available!
My favorite is Fireflies for its highly accurate transcription and ability to understand the gist of our discussion and then turn it into a well-written recap.
All you need to do is sync your calendar or Zoom account with Fireflies before the meeting, and the bot Fred will automatically join when your meeting happens.
During your meeting
Meeting facilitation tip 5: Set some ground rules
Meeting ground rules means letting your participants know the behaviors you expect of them during the meeting.
Some ground rules that will help you have a more effective meeting are:
- Be present: Kindly ask all participants to put their phones or even laptops (in face-to-face meetings) aside to focus on the discussion fully.
- One conversation at a time: Everyone joins in the same conversation. No splitting into smaller groups.
- One topic at a time: Everyone deals with one topic at a time. If another topic comes up, finish the current one first before moving to the next one.
- Don’t beat a dead horse: Avoid repeating yourselves or revisiting decisions already made. (aka. complaining about things you can’t change anyway).
- Have a parking lot: When your team comes across a good but irrelevant idea during the meeting, assure everyone that you will take note and keep it in a “parking lot” for revisiting later. This will help everyone move on from the fantastic new idea and return to the current topic.
As a facilitator, you may think it’s too serious or dictatorial to lay out a bunch of rules before your meeting. But nothing could be further from the truth. As Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering,” says:
“Gatherings are temporary alternative worlds. People in most workplaces are bopping around from world to world, particularly now that it's remote. Every meeting you go into is a different cultural code based on who's running it and its purpose. Rules are a way to help people understand how the group can coordinate better together, often hopefully in a slightly fun way, and how to be successful there.”
You may as well just remember these ground rules during the meeting and remind your teammates if someone violates them.
Meeting facilitation tip 6: Set the tone for your meeting with an icebreaker
Having an icebreaker is a great way to foster positive work relationships and set a collaborative tone for your meeting.
We are social creatures who always crave social connection. According to Gallup, work friendship is one of the 12 factors influencing people’s engagement at work.
We have put together our favorite virtual icebreakers with fun tools and guides you can use right away, including:
- AI Icebreaker Generator
- Mood Poll
- This or That
- Body Scan
- … and more!
Meeting facilitation tip 7: Foster effective decision-making with meeting roles
When you hold a meeting to make an important decision, it will be useful to clarify with the people attending (and also with yourself!) each person's role in the decision-making process.
McKinsey & Company discovered that ambiguous roles and accountability can lead to frustration when a team tries to make decisions. Therefore, they suggest the following meeting roles:
- Decision makers: The people who are responsible for the decisions. Consequently, only they can vote for the final decisions.
- Advisers: They give input and shape the decisions. They have a high stake in the outcome of the decisions but are not directly responsible.
- Recommenders: Those who analyze the problems, point out the pros and cons of each option, and recommend a course of action for Decision-makers and Advisers. The more Recommenders you have in a meeting, the better.
- Execution partners: They don’t make decisions but are involved in implementing them. You include them for optimal speed and clarity.
Meeting facilitation tip 8: Have a structure to your discussion
When your meeting is a free-flow discussion, you’re letting the outcomes of your meeting up to luck! Try out the below discussion structures:
For problem-solving meetings: Use the “doctor” analysis
- “What are the symptoms?” - The surfacing problems that led you to call for this meeting.
- “How long has this been going on?” - Lay all the background facts of the problems on the table.
- “Would you just lie down on the couch?” - Now, the “doctor” does the analysis. Your team discusses to identify the root cause of the problems.
- “You seem to have a slipped disc.” - Root cause identified.
- “Here’s your prescription.” - The team comes up with possible solutions together.
For brainstorming meetings: Use a design thinking template
Design thinking starts from the belief that with the right process, everyone can be creative. Using design thinking will help all meeting participants contribute to brainstorming discussions.
In brainstorming sessions, does it feel like some of your teammates always have the best ideas, and the others just stay silent most of the time? Saying, “I'm just not the creative type”?
Stanford professor David Kelley would tell you there’s no such thing as “the creative type.” He’s the person who created the design thinking process as we know it today.
For recap meetings, Use the Rose-Thorn-Bud template
After completing a project, your team may want to sit down together to reflect on the work done.
The Rose-Thorn-Bud template ensures that your recap discussion is constructive and well-balanced:
- Rose: The good points your team has made in the last project.
- Thorn: What your team could have done better?
- Bud: Opportunities for the next project.
Meeting facilitation tip 9: Mindful of the unspoken hierarchy among your attendants
Oftentimes, a meeting discussion is dominated by the more extroverted and/or senior people in the group.
To make sure that the introverts, the new hires, and/or the less experienced team members can contribute to the discussion (and feel included!), you can try the following strategies:
- Let the more senior people speak last: Because after they say their ideas, others will be reluctant to contradict them.
- Ask the quiet ones for their opinions. Some possible questions are:
- What do you think about ____?
- How do you think ____ relates / causes ____?
- What are likely to be the effects of ____?
- Do you want to suggest the next step for ____?
- You can find more suggestions here!
Meeting facilitation tip 10: Wrap up your meeting with clear next steps
When you wrap up your meeting, the most important thing is to make sure you and your participants are clear about the next steps to take.
Simply list the next action items with the person in charge and deadlines.
After your meeting
Send out a meeting recap with specific next steps to your meeting participants and other relevant team members. This allows everyone to go back to the discussion occasionally and stay aligned!
AI meeting notetakers like Fireflies or Meetgeek can help you with a detailed summary of the discussion points. You can easily and quickly share meeting notes and audio snippets of your meeting’s most important parts.
Meeting facilitation: FAQs
Who can be a meeting facilitator?
For a problem-solving meeting, the project leader is the most suitable person to facilitate the meeting as they understand the project most thoroughly and have the authority to make decisions.
For a brainstorming or team-building meeting, you can rotate the facilitator role within the team to make sure everyone feels engaged and included!
What to do if your team stays silent during meetings?
The common causes of your participants staying silent during a meeting are lack of preparation, not feeling welcomed enough to contribute, and not having any ideas.
As a meeting facilitator, you can:
- Send out the meeting agenda and pre-read documents early so that your participants have enough time to prepare and think through the discussion points of the meeting (See Meeting Facilitation Tip 2).
- Let the more senior and extroverted people speak last so that the more junior and introverted people feel more comfortable raising their ideas (See more in Meeting Facilitation Tip 9).
- Use a discussion template to foster your team’s thinking process and prevent the “blank mind" (See more in Meeting Facilitation Tip 8).
How do I become a better meeting facilitator?
To become a better meeting facilitator, you may want to strengthen your skills in critical thinking, active listening, assertiveness, and neutrality. Besides, there are certain tactics you should follow before, during, and after the meeting.
Apart from that, no special talent or charisma is required! Everyone can be a good meeting facilitator.
How do I facilitate a virtual meeting better?
The upside of a virtual meeting is that you can utilize many new tech to improve it.
From AI notetakers to virtual whiteboards, getting yourself and the team familiar with these new tools will save you lots of time and make your future virtual meetings more effective and engaging!
Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.