What Is Facilitation?

Use Facilitation to Deal with Competing Conversations in a Meeting

Coworkers sitting around conference table with a facilitator leading
Facilitation Can Make a Meeting More Effective. Klaus Vedvelt/Iconica/Getty Images

Facilitation is a process that trainers, team builders, meeting leaders, managers, and communicators use to add content, process, and structure to meet the needs of an individual, group or team. In an overall description, facilitation is used to help a group of people to achieve their goal, their reason for holding the meeting. 

Facilitation is provided by a person, called a facilitator, who leads pairs of people or groups to obtain knowledge and information, work collaboratively, and accomplish their objectives.


A facilitator should add great value to any group planning session or meeting as the facilitator keeps the group on task, moving together in the same direction and ensures the participation of each group member. 

Group Facilitation

Facilitation for groups or teams is provided by internal or external people who are skilled in:

  • Presenting content and information,
  • Designing and formulating a process that helps a group achieve its objectives,
  • Providing an appropriate structure to a meeting, training or team building session, or another work event, so that the mission of the group is accomplished in the session,
  • Promoting shared responsibility for the outcome of the meeting, and,
  • Drawing forth from participants the answers to their questions, necessary decisions, and solutions to problems.

Individual Facilitation

With similar objectives to those listed for group facilitation, facilitation for individuals is most frequently provided when two or more employees are experiencing conflict, disagreement, a need to set mutual goals, or the desire to debrief a project, process, or experience.

A skilled facilitator can provide the structure, content, and process needed by the individual employees to reach a mutually satisfying solution to their issues.

Characteristics of Individuals Who Provide Facilitation

Facilitation is a learned skill that comes most comfortably to individuals who demonstrate characteristics such as:

  • Strong group leadership skills,
  • Deep knowledge about group processes and structures,
  • Knowledge of group and interpersonal dynamics and an understanding of verbal and nonverbal communication,
  • The ability to creatively present training and team building content in a way that encourages participation from session attendees,
  • Empathy for people and their situations,
  • Powerful listening and communication skills, and
  • The ability to structure group interventions and events to produce the desired results for the group.

Facilitation is a powerful tool that is used to help individuals and groups more effectively and efficiently achieve their purpose. Under the leadership of a skilled facilitator (one who provides facilitation services), meetings, team building sessions, and training classes achieve results not possible without facilitation.

Left to their own devices, group and team participants often lack the skills, permission, and support needed to effectively facilitate their own work processes.

Deal With Competing Conversations in Meetings Using Effective Facilitation

Want to develop effective working relationships with people at work? Effective interaction with people in business meetings can contribute to effective work relationships.

Effective group facilitation in meetings manages the interaction of difficult people holding competing conversations.

Off-topic conversations between two or more meeting members waste time, inhibit group progress, and limit the contributions of individuals to the team meeting as a whole.

They are distracting for meeting participants who want to participate in all team interactions. People start to feel meetings are a waste of time if the side conversations are allowed to continue and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They stop preparing for meetings that they know will go off topic and be scattered.

Additionally, competing conversations in several small groups, even when on-topic, deprive team members of the insight or knowledge that the members of the team are discussing. Not only can this result in limited ideas, but you can open yourself up to racial, and gender discrimination claims.

If the people having side conversations are of a different race or gender than the people waiting for the meeting to come back on topic, participants can believe discrimination is occurring.

Whether you are the meeting leader, a manager, or a group member, you can use the following ideas to bring the group back together when group members are holding more than one discussion at a time.

Recommendations for Meeting Management of Competing Conversations

  • Use nonverbal communication:  Look steadily at the participants for a moment. Raise your eyebrows while looking or wave to the participants. Stop the person who has the floor for a minute while the other participants rejoin the group. Don't be afraid to do this. It's part of a manager's or team leader's job to control meetings.
  • Ask a question. Call on one of the group members participating in the competing conversation. With a brief summary of the discussion occurring in the meeting as a whole, ask for his opinion. Ask him to share his ideas with the rest of the people in the meeting.

    Say, "I believe we'd all be interested in your thoughts on this issue, John." This may be a bit uncomfortable for you, but it serves two purposes: It brings the side conversation to the main conversation and it lets everyone know that the behavior is not permissible. No one can complain that the boss asked a question, or say that you reprimanded them.
  • Verbally intervene. Directly ask the group members participating in the competing conversation to rejoin the group discussion, without using sarcasm or anger. Say, "I'm afraid we're missing good ideas when everyone is talking at once. I know I can't keep track of all of these thoughts." Generally, it's better to use this tactic as a second or third attempt to pull people in. It's direct and very effective but can embarrass team members.
  • Establish a group signal. The group signal reminds participants to hold one discussion at a time. A signal that works effectively is to make a non-verbal time out sign followed by holding up one index finger to indicate one meeting. If there is a good relationship among team members, a joke can also be an effective tool. “Hey, John and Jane, stop trying to plan your world takeover and come back to the meeting!”

Conclusion About Competing Conversations in Business Meetings

People spend hours of their work week attending business meetings, it's your responsibility as a manager or meeting leader to make sure they are a good use of time. Controlling the side conversations can ensure the meeting stays on topic and produces quality work.

Effective meeting management preserves their time. Managing competing conversations in meetings builds positive work relationships. Coworkers feel that their time and contributions are valued and respected when interpersonal relationships in meetings are well managed.