Unlocking brilliance in meetings

“Most meetings are less effective, efficient and engaging than they could be because of insufficient preparation followed by poor facilitation”

‘Facilitation’ is the process by which a meeting is made ‘easier’ for everyone. A ‘facilitator’ may be the chairperson, a presenter, the team leader, a designated ‘facilitator’, or a participant intervening at an appropriate moment.

For any meeting, there is the ‘meeting owner’ (perhaps the chairperson or team leader) – who is a facilitator – and those people responsible for each agenda item – who are co-facilitators.

Facilitation starts when you (and any co-facilitators) prepare for a meeting. Most guidance on running ‘effective meetings’ focuses on participant conduct (put your phones away, stay engaged, etc) or facilitation technique (visual aids, ‘brainstorming’, etc). While these are relevant, they are either difficult to ‘enforce’ or they require skill and confidence as a facilitator.

Meeting design is something everyone can improve on. We offer below a check-list of things to keep in mind when designing and facilitating a meeting. This is a long list because it’s intended to be comprehensive. If you facilitate meetings often and well, most of this becomes second nature but it remains important to keep in mind.

If you’re not bothering to prepare for meetings, reflect on why that might be. How often do you attend other people’s meetings and find them to be inefficient and ineffective? How does that make you feel?

If you don’t want other people to feel like you do, make the time and plan your meetings!

If there’s ONE change to make it is to adopt a question-driven agenda. This is a simple adaptation to the usual agenda found in meetings. It keeps everyone, facilitator and participants, focused on why they are meeting and when to stop. This is rather different to simply stating the ‘objective’ of the meeting. In our experience, people define the objective too vaguely with no tests for determining whether the objective has been met. A question-driven approach solves this problem and ensures more rigorous meeting planning.

The approach looks simple but it does need practice as you need to look at the agenda from a different perspective.

Why you probably won’t bother

In our opinion, part of the reason why meetings are poorly planned and run is because they also serve the natural human needs of social interaction, connection and a sense of belonging. These collective needs provide an unconscious ‘competing commitment’ to the collective intention of having an efficient and effective meeting.

Acknowledging this unconscious ‘competing commitment‘ and attending to it, is the first step towards improvement. The need can then be met through specific adjustments within the meeting agenda.

Other ‘invisible dynamics’ may also be at work to inhibit your planning of meetings. For example, organisational culture, personal fears, unconscious loyalty, group dynamics etc. Overcoming these issues may involve advanced group facilitation and/or raising your self-awareness (e.g. through coaching).

More advanced forms of facilitation

When the invisible group dynamics are what’s making meetings difficult, more advanced preparation and facilitation is required. Having greater understanding of people and ‘organisational systems’ allows the facilitator to anticipate difficulties and take appropriate steps before they start.

Of course this doesn’t work if the source of the problem is you! If you’re a domineering chairperson, you need to become a more skilful version of yourself first before learning to facilitate. Meetings need to be facilitated, not led.

Brilliance Unlocked provides remote coaching on the development of a question-driven agenda and meeting design more generally, We also provide advanced facilitation services and training.

If you would like to explore this further, please contact Mike Price at Brilliance Unlocked Ltd.

(c) Brilliance Unlocked Ltd, 2021-22