The Meeting Facilitator’s Role

The Meeting Facilitator’s Role 

The meeting facilitator’s primary role is to optimize meeting productivity. Well-structured meetings chaired by a competent facilitator can help keep attendees focused and engaged, hold people accountable for performance, support the decision-making process, and assign tasks to advance progress.

I have written previously about The 5 P’s of Productive Meetings.

1. Purpose.

Participants should know why the meeting is being held. What is the desired outcome of this meeting? The purpose should be worth pulling people away from other productive work.

2. Preparation.

Metrics (KPIs) need to show the current score. Goals and Tasks need to be updated to reflect the current status. All participants must complete any assigned prework and come prepared to share their personal perspectives in order to achieve the meeting’s purpose.

3. Process.

Every meeting should have an agenda that describes specifically which topics will be discussed, in what order, and for how long, so participants know what to expect and how to prepare.

Here are some agendas I have put together for the Weekly Team Meeting, the Daily Team Huddle, and the One-on-One Weekly Meeting.

4. Participation.

Limit the number of participants to those who “must” be involved, not those who would “like” to be involved. Most research recommends fewer than 10 people (with 5 to 8 being optimal). Only invite those whose knowledge and buy-in is essential to the decision-making process.

In addition to this, a meeting facilitator should be appointed who makes sure everyone present is given the opportunity to speak and asked to share their opinion, and not just let the louder, more extroverted team members dominate the discussion. Here is my guide on how to effectively facilitate a meeting.

5. Progress.

Participants must be held accountable for completing prior tasks and achieving agreed performance standards. Agenda topics are discussed and debated. Decisions are made and documented. New tasks are assigned. Everyone should leave the meeting with clarity about what needs to be done, by whom, and by when, to advance progress.

Who should be the meeting facilitator?

There are different schools of thought on this. Some suggest rotating the duty so that everyone gets to develop meeting facilitation skills. Others suggest that only the person most qualified and competent should perform this role.

My opinion is that the person best suited for the role should be the meeting facilitator, at least in the beginning. Sharing duties should only be considered when meetings have reached the point where they are well structured, disciplined, and where a high performance, high accountability culture has been indoctrinated into the team.

In small-medium sized businesses, the CEO or team leader often self-selects as the meeting facilitator, but this should not be a given. My recommendation is to pick the most structured and disciplined person on your team to facilitate. Someone who is assertive enough to enforce the “meeting rules” and hold people firmly accountable for achieving the agreed performance standards. I have seen many examples where having someone else facilitate meetings has freed the CEO up to observe group dynamics and participate in the decision-making process more effectively.

Meeting “Rules”

It is a wise investment to clarify your meeting rules upfront so participants know exactly what is expected and how to conduct themselves accordingly. A set of agreed rules will help optimize meeting productivity. It is then the meeting facilitator’s role to enforce the agreed rules. Some common areas that are worth creating rules for include:

Preparation

  • Pre-work that participants must complete prior, or bring to the meeting

Agenda

  • What will be discussed, in what order
  • How long will be allowed for each agenda item
  • Process for dealing with introduced topics that are off the agenda

Timekeeping

  • Start time. Scheduled breaks. Stop time.
  • Consequences for being late
  • How time will be kept during the meeting, and by whom
  • How time limits for each agenda item, and the overall meeting, will be signalled and enforced

Note Taking

  • What information will be captured, by whom, and where these notes will reside as a permanent record

Accountability

  • Performance standards and expectations (Metrics, Projects, Tasks etc)
  • How below standard performance will be discussed and dealt with

Participation

  • Use of technology during the meeting (computers and phones etc)
  • How external interruptions will be dealt with (phone calls, staff interruptions etc)
  • Level of attention and active listening expected
  • Who gets to speak. In what order.
  • How to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to speak without being interrupted
  • How to make it safe for people to say what they really think without ridicule or disapproval
  • How to ensure talkative people do not unduly dominate discussions
  • How participants will be dealt with if they ramble, go off-topic, or act in a disruptive manner
  • How to “fight fair” when passionately debating the issues

Decision making

  • How decisions will be made, and by whom
  • The follow-up process to ensure decisions are implemented and tasks carried out post-meeting
  • Expectations about participant conduct and support of decisions post-meeting

Stephen’s Rules

All the items listed above need to be clarified with clear rules, but here is a selection of rules I commonly incorporate in my meetings in case they are of interest to you:

  • The meeting starts exactly on time
  • Anyone who is late (including the CEO) must donate $5 to the team social fund
  • Phones must be turned face down and set to silent. No multitasking
  • State upfront the decisions that need to be made at the meeting, and how those decisions will be made
    • (e.g. Leader makes the decision without consultation? Leader gets input from the team, allows debate, then makes the decision? Voting system – majority rules? Consensus – everyone must agree?) 
  • Name the ultimate decision-maker in the room
    • (I always clarify this upfront when facilitating strategic planning. I let participants know that they will get the opportunity to participate in the debate, but I will stop the debate at the end of the allocated time and ask the named decision-maker to make a clear decision)
  • Off-topic items will be “parked” and a follow-up task assigned to one of the participants to start the research or problem resolution process post-meeting
  • Only 1 person is allowed to speak at a time
  • Passionate debate is encouraged. But you must listen with respect. Hear people out without interruption before replying
  • Disagree then commit. You are allowed to disagree during the debate, but everyone must commit to the final decision
  • No undermining or criticizing of decisions after the meeting will be tolerated
  • A Task is a promise. You are expected to keep your promises
  • Due dates are “commits” not “hopes”. Don’t give a date by which you “hope” to get the task done, commit to a realistic date that others can count on
  • Between now and the due date, it’s OK to ask for help if you get stuck, or renegotiate your commitment if something happens outside of your control
  • However, it is totally unacceptable to show up with an excuse on the due date with the task not done.

Of course, your management style may differ from mine. However, I do encourage you and your team to come up with your own set of rules to optimize meeting participation and productivity.

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Until next time…
Stephen

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