Meetings are a Must: So, Master your Meeting Facilitation

Meetings are a must for every leader. So commonplace that we often don’t invest in the savviness that it takes to lead a meeting well. All too often I can show up for a meeting and just wing it and typically it turns out okay. But, when I take the time to prepare it can move from okay to quite good or even great.

It was just our weekly team meeting, but our team lead was trying on some new meeting facilitation skills and introduced an activity for us to engage in problem solving on a topic rather than the same old discussion. Everyone “lit up”. Even some of our “wait and see” team members jumped into the activity. The participation brought out new insights and everyone left the meeting with some level of buy-in to what we decided. I remember thinking, “That’s the kind of meeting I want to lead someday!”

If you want your meeting to be great, plan ahead. Our team lead tried a new skill, but she also had a clear plan for how to make her meeting great. So, let’s dive into a few things that you could include to tighten up that meeting and fuel participation.

Design around your purpose

Every meeting has some desired outcomes. Plan around those desired outcomes and build your discussion or activities to help you align with that outcome. Otherwise meetings really do become the same-old, same-old thing. Check out some ideas on defining purpose in last week’s blog: Not the Same Old Boring Meeting.

Keep the agenda focused

Why is that on the agenda? Cut everything out of the agenda that can be dealt with another way (email, 1:1, sub-group, etc.). Criteria you might consider for deciding what gets put on the agenda:

  • A decision requiring input that can best be gleaned through discussion
  • A problem that lacks definition or the root cause is unclear
  • Action steps that involve collaboration across the group
  • An activity that will connect the team around a purpose or project

A good meeting is one that requires everyone at the table to engage in the agenda. Otherwise, consider a 1:1 meeting or an email blast. 

Give advance notice

If the group needs some context, give them information in advance or share how they need to be prepared for the meetings. If others will be sharing, offer clear expectations to keep the meeting on topic and on time.

Ask good questions to promote discussion 

If the topic requires discussion, plan your questions out ahead of time to focus the discussion and keep it on topic. It’s easy for the conversation to go down a rabbit trail. Questions can redirect the conversation back on-topic. It’s also easy for us as leaders to fall into the trap of “telling” instead of “facilitating”, so those questions prepared in advance help you stay in the role of facilitator and, thus, get the participation that makes meetings productive.

Start and finish on time

Prioritize what is most important and address it early so you don’t run out of time. Plan out your agenda and how much time you want to spend on each topic. Assign someone on the team the role of timekeeper to give you a wrap up notice. In the last few minutes, identify your action items and write down what steps need to be taken by whom. 

The majority of meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions. 

~Patrick Lencioni

Remember, it is not your job to entertain people, but to facilitate the conversation toward the purpose for the meeting. Part of the pathway to that purpose is creating space for your team to participate and engage. The meeting is the ideal opportunity to create that space. 

Ready to Try Something New?

Imagine you have an idea you want to develop or a problem that lacks definition. Try this Popcorn Sentences activity to give it structure and maybe even get to your outcome a little faster. 

Want to make sure everybody is contributing? Take it back to elementary school and get your team to engage in a bit of popcorn thinking. Start a sentence, take it around in a circle and have each staff member finish the sentence in order to make their ideas known. One per statement. Go around the circle again to build more ideas. Not only will that keep people engaged, but it will force workers to think outside the box in order to contribute.

Try something like:

  • “To serve 10 more clients a day, we would have to ________________.”
  • “We should spend more time ____________ and less time ________________.”
  • “If we want others to buy-in to this idea, we will have to _________________.”
  • “I could be confident in this decision if ________________________________.”
  • “This will be effective (or successful) when ____________________________.”

If you try it, email me or comment below. I’d love to hear how it goes. Did you get more participation than normal? Did you move toward actionable ideas or a decision quicker?


Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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