Natural Facilitation: How to design better meetings
Who likes going to meetings? Honestly? Good facilitation can make the difference between having a productive and enjoyable meeting, and having to start all over again. As a facilitator, my aim is to create the best possible experience for my client, and for the meeting delegates. Here are some of the principles and approaches I keep in mind when designing meetings.
1 Get to know your client and their needs
You can’t prepare for every eventuality, but building a good working relationship with your client will make it easier for you to work through any difficulties together.
Clarify these questions
- What is the purpose of the meeting?
- What are the key topics and isssues?
- Where do we need consensus and where do we need agreement?
2 Invite the right people
The quality of the meeting outcomes will depend on the depth and breadth of perspectives and expertise in the room.
Action Strive for diversity and balance. Reach out to experts from different sectors and geographical regions.
3 Have confidence in your approach to facilitation
Establish what feels comfortable to your client in terms of approach, tools and methods. Then make a case for what works for you.
4 Identify, and share in advance, the critical information that delegates will need to perform well at the meeting
- Don’t assume delegates will have read documentation before the meeting.
- Distribute printed copies of critical information on the day.
- Not printing documents to reduce the meeting footprint could be a false economy. You may save a tree, and lose your meeting.
5 Create a natural working environment
The way a room looks and feels will impact on the performance of the participants.
There are laws against keeping animals in cramped spaces. We should treat people in the same way.
Aim for a room with a high ceiling, natural light, tables and chairs, and, very important, free wall space, where you can hang flip charts. You will also need an adjacent free space for different types of activity (either indoors or outdoors). Create evenly spaced table groups of 5-6 or 10-12 depending on the size of the event. Try to get round tables.
6 Be a good host
How you meet and greet participants can have a huge impact on how people behave for the rest of the meeting.
Make delegates feel truly welcome, and special, by having a word with each individual when they arrive. Your subliminal message must be: “I am so pleased to meet you, at this best of all possible meetings. You have all the skills and experience to help make it a success”.
7 Encourage dialogue and networking
Design-in formal and informal opportunities for participants to get to know and learn from each other.
Insist on time for participants to introduce themselves to the group, and to state their expectations. Build two minute time slots into the meeting schedule for participants to talk about their work. After refreshment breaks, twice a day, will help to keep delegates engaged and interested.
8 Take a lesson from Napoleon Bonaparte
Reportedly, one of Napoleon’s tactics was ‘Reculer pour mieux sauter’, which in English, roughly translated, means, ‘Take a step back in order to jump further forward’.
Just when you think you are close to achieving the meeting objectives, things have a way of coming undone. This is actually a sign that the group is fully engaged with the topic, and wants to get things right. The facilitator’s job is to offer the group a process that will help them to clarify the outstanding issues and consolidate their work so far. Be prepared to throw away the schedule for an hour or two.
9 Learning and having fun
In my experience groups that are learning and having fun, tend to be the most engaged and productive. Notice what energises the group, and work with it. Surprise the group, confound their expectations with questions and observations that nudge them to see and think differently.
How to tell if delegates are engaged and having fun?
If you have followed the principles above then, probably your delegates will be happy as Napoleon. How can you tell? Here some indicators:
- When groups burst into life when given a task
- When groups don’t want to finish working on a task
- When delegates change places willingly
- When there is spontaneous laughter in the room
- When delegates stay in the room long after the meeting talking to each other.
10 Whose Agenda is it anyway?
When a group sticks with a challenging task and gets a good result, they experience a well-earned sense of pride in their achievements. Your job is done.
To paraphrase Lao Tse, when the meeting objectives have been fulfilled, and the delegates think they did this by themselves, the facilitator’s work is done…