Meetings start with the best of intentions. We may prepare team meetings with the belief that the combined ideas of many is better than the thoughts of one. And yet, these sorts of meetings often lose direction and turn into a briefing session directed by the leader. The list of reasons may be long, but it often involves a lack of understanding of what is required of a leader when facilitating a team meeting. As a facilitator, the leader has to get the team members actively engaged in the process of discovery rather than being passive recipients of information.
Not every team meeting is a facilitated session, but when facilitation is required, it helps to approach the session in stages – the beginning, the middle and the end. Each stage has components which are important, and will challenge you in different ways. By planning each stage separately, you increase the chances that your meeting will be organised, effective and in control.
A strong beginning helps to set the tone for a successful meeting. Your team should be guided throughout the process and have a clear understanding of the what, why, how and outcome of the agenda items. When beginning the meeting, it helps to follow three steps:
First, start with a welcoming statement. This doesn’t need to be a long drawn-out oration of the day’s events. However, clarity, conciseness, and confidence, are critical. You will need to establish your command immediately. This establishes your right to control proceedings and positions you as credible leader.
Second, move to a meeting set-up in which you give the team a clear understanding of the reasons behind the meeting. Talk about why this is beneficial and urgent not just for you, but also for them. You should also let the team know the outcome you hope to achieve at the end.
Third, explain the agenda, which should outline for everyone the process you will follow. Don’t just rattle off an agenda items. Take the time to explain the reason and process behind each item. You will not be discussing each item in depth, but you do need to give your team some insight into what will be happening.
As you get to the middle of the meeting there are a few key words you need to keep in mind: objectivity, group dynamics and ownership.
Objectivity means giving responsibility to the group and retaining your independence. A good facilitator speaks for only 30% of the time and is able to get the team to speak 70% of the time. You can always tell inexperienced facilitators because they speak too much. As a facilitator you must allow people to take responsibility for their own issues. Give them the chance and they will come up with the ideas.
In a pure facilitation, your job is to discover the issues at hand – not give an opinion. As the team leader you may be required to give your “expert’s opinion” or “management insight” on the topic, but you should still remain objective in the way you handle input from the group. A good facilitator is involved in “helping” the group come up with bigger and better ideas, not “doing” it for them
Group Dynamics means eliciting quality information from the participants and managing the flow of information from all participants. Many of the problems teams face are not related to lack of technical knowledge, but rather issues related to group dynamics. As the facilitator you’re there to ensure the process is fulfilling the meeting’s objectives.
Ownership means guiding the group to self-sufficiency and ownership of their ideas. The group needs to feel that they have buy-in on the process and the results.
You need to constantly check back with the group as a facilitator – clarify the ideas – clarify where there is agreement and dissension. When there is more group ownership it encourages the group to act on its discoveries.
The “wrap-up” or ending stage is where most meetings fail. Great ideas are generated throughout meeting, but more often than not, no action or ownership follows. Make sure this doesn’t happen to your team. When ending the meeting, it is important to cover the following points:
- Thank the team for their support, effort, patience and time
- Recap the what, why and outcome for the meeting
- Review any agenda items that weren’t discussed
- Make sure everyone is clear on action items and responsibilities
- Outline next steps, follow-up processes, and how progress will be monitored
- Take ownership for establishing the next meeting