9 Meeting Facilitation Skills for Managers

Group of business professionals engaged in a productive meeting discussion
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Meetings can either be opportunities to share ideas, discuss challenges and define action plans, or, they can end up as unproductive time wasters. Unfortunately, managers are often the major contributors to meeting process dysfunction.

This article offers ideas for managers at all levels to strengthen their meeting facilitation skills in support of improving meeting productivity. 

Where Managers Go Wrong with Meetings:

Many managers think they know how to “run” a meeting.

They set the agenda, do all of the talking, and make all of the decisions. While this may feel easy and efficient for managers, it’s often a waste of people’s time, and it doesn’t tap into the creative potential of the team. In fact, it has the opposite effect as employees tend to withdraw, deferring to the manager who clearly wants to be in charge. 

There are a lot of reasons managers don’t involve their employees more in meetings, including:

  • Fear of letting go.
  • The false belief that because they are in charge, they need to provide all of the answers.
  • A lack of confidence in the abilities or problem-solving skills of their employees.
  • A lack of meeting facilitation skills.  

While the first three items are behaviors of poor managers, the last one, facilitation skills, can be learned and strengthened with practice.

Strengthening Your Meeting Facilitation Skills:

By definition, facilitating means, “To make easier or less difficult; help forward.”  In order for a manager to facilitate a meeting (instead of running it), they need to be willing to let go of their power and be open to different outcomes and approaches.

Proper meeting facilitation involves getting everyone involved in identifying and solving problems. Teams will almost always develop better, more creative solutions than any one manager could and will be more likely to support the implementation of the solutions.

Here are nine 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 than “informational” topics. However, ample time needs to be allocated to allow for group involvement.

2. Environment and climate setting. 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 as a way to encourage great participation and remove barriers.

3. Asking questions. Great questions stimulate great discussion. The article, “70 Awesome Coaching Questions Using the GROW Model," offers some outstanding discussion prompters. 

4. Active listening. When a manager paraphrases, checks for understanding, and asks follow-up questions, it encourages more participation and keeps the discussion flowing. In “How to Become a Better Listener,” I share ideas on strengthening your active listening skills. 

5. Brainstorming. Most people think they already know how to brainstorm. However, they usually don’t. In too many settings, the effectiveness of brainstorming is reduced by poor process management, strong social or political pressures and poor facilitation skills.

Many people have never truly experienced the power of a well-run brainstorming session. See “15 Ways to Rain on a Brainstorming Session” for what not to do – then do the opposite!

6. Consensus-building skills. Consensus does not mean that everybody has to agree with a decision. It means that everyone has had an opportunity to share their perspectives and propose ideas. Proper facilitation will guide the group from idea sharing to the development of an effective decision. Reaching consensus takes more time, but will usually gain stronger buy-in from the group at large. However, remember that consensus is not the ultimate goal.

An effective decision for the problem at hand is the most important issue. See A Six-Step Consensus Decision Making Framework for more on how to lead a team through a consensus decision-making process.

7. Conflict resolution. Whenever there is a roomful of people involved in solving a problem, conflict is inevitable. In fact, conflict over the task or issue is viewed by team researchers as part of the process for effective decision-making. A manager must learn how to harness the power of conflict in a positive way. See: "Conflict Resolution for Small Groups."

8. Non-verbal communication skills. While researchers argue over the exact percentages, most would agree that more than 50 percent of communication is non-verbal. A manager 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.

The Bottom Line: 

Time is a precious asset in life and at work. Strive to manage meetings for optimal efficiency and effectiveness. Learning, practicing and applying the nine facilitation skills identified above is a great place to start. 

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Updated by Art Petty