Make meeting minutes count: Become an expert facilitator within your organization

By Melissa Bergkamp (LinkedIn profile), Generation Next Governor at Large
Harper Industries, Inc.

This article was originally published in the May 2020 edition of Generation Next Edition.

Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed, participated in, and even led several group meetings that felt stagnant and inefficient. And while I made assumptions that these undesirable experiences likely increased in recent months as we turned to video conferencing as a solution to remain productive and engaged, I found little comfort in this understanding.

Now more than ever, the ability to be an effective facilitator is critical to generating momentum within your team and inspiring progress. It’s a big job and it’s no easy task. While experts say it takes practice and self-awareness, I believe the skill of facilitation is a key characteristic of great leadership. In fact, Tom Wujec, founder of The Woujec Group explains that when you marry a specialized skill with facilitation skills, you are destined to reach success.

Eager to add facilitation as a resource I carry in my tool belt, I quickly turned to professionals that have mastered this skill for insight. After aggregating suggestions from colleagues, my business coach and other various resources, I began highlighting the repetitive details. Acknowledging that one of the best ways to learn something new is to teach it someone else, I bundled my findings into a few succinct categories to make the goal more easily attainable.

Responsibility

A facilitator is not intended to be a mediator or even a pacifier. The sole responsibility of a facilitator is to be a moderator. In this role, the goal is to manage the process, not the content. This individual should always be the most prepared participant in the room – and most prepared does not mean most knowledgeable.

When preparing for a group discussion, start by identifying the purpose of the gathering and identify what the goal should be. The goal does not necessarily mean the final decision at the end of the meeting. For the facilitator, the initial goal is to recruit the appropriate group of people and help guide the discussion until an agreed upon decision is reached that will result in organizational success.

Set the tone

A successful moderator leads the most fruitful discussions when all participants are on the same page. Each contributor should have an understanding of the purpose of the meeting, participant expectations and what needs to be achieved or decided before the meeting begins. This information can be easily communicated in the form of an agenda or in a prior briefing.

By offering these resources in advance, you are not only informing others of the topics that will be discussed, but also disclosing how long the session will take. It allows the opportunity to assign specific portions of the meeting to participants and distribute responsibility for contributing.

Knowing that the facilitator is not expected to be the topic expert, inviting relevant experts to the meeting and offering advance notice is suggested. Providing adequate preparation time for the expert to compile their thoughts and tailor their delivery will ensure that the information is valuable and resonates with the other participants. When coordinated properly, leveraging individual skills in this way will inadvertently result in strengthened trust within your organization.

Add value

Alignment is reinforced when people feel they are provided the opportunity to voice their opinion or concern and add value to the organization. Understand that not everyone is going to speak up voluntarily. It may be helpful to keep track of who is hiding and provide direct encouragement for those specific participants to speak up.

  • Making it a priority to invite others to contribute will create an inclusive environment. The discussion should be a balanced back-and-forth experience, avoiding any circumstance that allows one or more persons to dominate the conversation.
  • Calling on people directly and equally eliminates social pressure. This action no longer offers a choice to participate but demands a response and reiterates to each attendee that you want to hear their voice. This tactic is only helpful if the facilitator understands that any response is acceptable, even the “I don’t have an opinion” response.
  • Ask questions with the intention of accepting new and out of the box ideas. Use what is contributed to keep building on the conversation or topic. Try not to disregard any input and acknowledge what was contributed with responses such as, “great question” or “thank you for sharing,” even when there is no benefit to expanding further on what was shared.

Read the room

The most productive facilitators seamlessly navigate the conversation within the designated time commitment, covering all points and holding to the set agenda. It is important to stay on task out of respect for the schedule of others. If the meeting appears to be going over the allotted time, make it a point to survey the room and ask if an extension is possible or find a stopping point and schedule a follow up meeting.

In addition to staying on track, an attentive moderator has the ability to use their emotional intelligence to read the room. Hone in on social cues and body language that would insinuate the group is ready for a change of pace. This may suggest it is a good time for a five-minute break or even signal that it is time to start wrapping up the discussion.

Another key tip is to steer away from presenting longer than five minutes without posing a question, requesting feedback or inviting opposing perspectives. When a topic does require a lengthy delivery, plan to proximately pass the baton off to another participant and pivot to the next topic to reengage group interaction.

The wrap up

Before concluding a group discussion, the organizer should reflect briefly on the purpose of the gathering. Was the objective met? If so, CEO of Magellan Executive Partners David Woods would say, “let’s wrap up and tie a bow around it.”

Hands-down, this concluding step is the single most important component of the entire assembly. The wrap-up requires that the facilitator actively listened and can briefly reiterate how the group’s time was utilized, what next steps will be taken and how the organization progresses.

It is critical that at the close of the meeting, each participant can clearly define how the group has selected to move forward and why. Complementary to “tying a bow,” distributing a summary or meeting minutes also warrants the discussion is well documented. These final steps clearly state what decisions the participants made and reaffirms next steps and responsibilities.

Can you wrap it up?

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