Leadership Retreats Resources

A Facilitator’s Guide to Effective Meetings

September 5, 2019
Leader's Journey
Ben Woodard

Harvard Business Review found that 71% of senior managers from a range of industries describe their meetings as “unproductive and inefficient.” Another report estimates the total spent on unproductive meetings in the U.S. annually tops $37 billion.

Are you looking to up your leadership game? Developing your ability to lead fruitful meetings stands out as a high-reward opportunity for you to add value to your team and organization.

If you’re like many leaders, you’ve struggled in the past with organizing, planning, and leading effective meetings; perhaps, it’s time to try a new approach. In my role as a professional facilitator of team and leadership development experiences, I’ve identified three practices that transfer well from the world of facilitation to the realm of productive meetings. Give them a try; the facilitator’s approach to meetings will transform your view and boost the effectiveness of meetings for your team and organization!


Channel the Group’s Energy

When I’m facilitating an activity or discussion with a client, one of my primary goals is to strike a balance between focus and flexibility. I want to provide focused direction for the group’s conversation while also affording space for creative thought. With that aim in mind, I avoid asking questions that are generically broad; this has a tendency to leave participants feeling the conversation is too open-ended and the purpose lacks clarity.

When it comes to meetings, equip your colleagues with the information they need for productive interaction – nothing more, nothing less. Pre-meeting agendas are helpful inasmuch as they afford team members an opportunity beforehand to clarify their thoughts on a particular topic. Avoid the common pitfalls of 1.) Overloading your meeting agendas with too many business items to cover in the time allotted, and 2.) Consistently deviating from the subject matter you outline in your agendas.

Ask the Questions Nobody Else Will

One of the most important responsibilities I steward as a facilitator is that of the critical question-asker. After establishing rapport with a group, I make an intentional effort to ask questions that encourage people to enter into a more vulnerable, authentic dialogue. These conversations can be delicate, uncomfortable, and raw, but they often produce the most significant and impactful moments of a group’s experience.

As Patrick Lencioni emphasizes in his book Death by Meeting, meetings must play out like our favorite movies – you’ve got to have drama. Not the middle-school gossip sort, but the kind that leads to passionate conversation, generating excitement and enthusiasm. Asking several strategic questions that force the room to engage in healthy conflict will leave folks with a sense that your meetings are actually meaningful and events to which they will look forward. Consider asking some or all of the following questions at your next meeting and find out just how much such questions can add:

  • What ideas have not been given due consideration during this meeting?
  • What are some gaps in our team’s skillsets that we need to address in order to move forward with greater confidence?
  • Utilizing the fist to five method: How well do you align with the decision that’s being proposed right now?


Clarify Expectations Moving Forward

If participants leave a WinShape program both inspired and equipped to implement their new-found insights in their everyday lives, then I know I’ve done something right as a facilitator. A way I ensure this objective is realized is to constantly push folks to remind themselves of the action items to which they have committed.

Successful meetings include opportunities toward the end to review what has been discussed and decided on, and to reiterate decisive steps toward these moving forward. This is the point where a particular person is delegated to gather more information on a particular subject before making a group decision. This is also when it is determined whether the information gathered will enable a time-dependent decision. Before meetings end, make sure everyone in the room is clear on assigned tasks and deadlines.

Striving for group clarity before, during, and after meetings will set you and your team up for success as you navigate the complexities of your day-to-day professional lives.

How to Initiate Action As A Leader

What Works for You?

Here at WinShape Teams, we love hearing feedback and gleaning insights from folks across multiple disciplines. We want to know what meeting strategies you have used to great success in your particular context.

Email me directly at bwoodard@winshape.org and tell me a story about your experience with leading meetings. Similarly, if you’re new to running meetings, or if you’re just looking to shake things up, give the strategies in the post above a try and let me know how they work for you!

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