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What is the Value of Meeting Facilitation?

In honor of International Facilitation Week in October, 2013, we thought it would be fun to have a week-long conversation about the value of meeting facilitation.

Craig-Freshley-Meeting-Facilitation-TechniquesWe encouraged people to answer the following question: What is the value of meeting facilitation?

See all the answers below!

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Meeting facilitation as a profession is relatively new but growing fast. Leaders who want innovation, collaboration, and who are fed up with waste-of-time meetings increasingly see the value of professional meeting facilitators.

Thanks to the International Association of Facilitators for advancing the profession and for organizing International Facilitation Week.

16 thoughts on “What is the Value of Meeting Facilitation?

  1. Effective group facilitation creates a safe environment for participation — by the quiet folks as well as the big talkers – in order to identify relevant possibilities, tease out key themes, explore pros and cons in a neutral manner, and prioritize options. By using a transparent process that creates space for all voices to be heard, good group process promotes shared ownership of the resulting plan / next steps toward goal achievement. It frees leaders and staff to be creative, think big thoughts, and keep eyes on the prize.

  2. To me, a good facilitator will do the things that need to be done in a meeting including keeping the agenda on-track, seeking ideas from those who may not necessarily speak up on their own, playing the Devil’s Advocate, and helping the participants to keep the meeting on the right course.
    One of the most positive experiences I’ve had with meeting facilitation was when I had the opportunity to watch a co-worker facilitate a public input session. Many of the participants were angry, emotional, and came ready for a fight. This woman remained very calm, reasonable, and open to their ideas and comments. Most of the participants felt that their voices had been heard, and left feeling good about their participation.

  3. I wish to tell you when facilitators create extreme harm. When they side with three against one and the one is correct, humane, protecting the victim. Such was the case of my threee sisters (who just wanted our parents’ money) who hired a “facilitator (several actually)” to do their bidding,. I asked her if she would take care of her own mother in her own home the way she wanted if she asked her to, no she said, her mother wanted to go to assisted living,… she did not answer the question. I thought my sisters were just selfish, not understanding why I was willing to give up my job and change their diapers, I did not realize it was the money, sooner, that they were all after. The local lawyers would not stick up for my 92 y/o dad and I had to hire one for myself to try to gain guardianship. WE lost and the courts, DSS and guardian gleaned over $100,000 from the estate, put our parents in to nursing home and killed them in short order. The guardians (“all lawyers in VA” per National Guardianship Assoc.) make more money the first year than after that so it behoves them to kill the patient, easy to do in poor nursing home…DSS could have gone to a family on the other side of the tracks that really needed help, but no, our family had money.

  4. Nice point, Larry Dansinger – good meeting facilitation does indeed allow participants to be their ‘best selves’ in attending well to their roles (and behaviors) during the meeting and/or receiving reminders/coaching to do so.

  5. Facilitators also use processes that assure that both introverts and extroverts are heard, make sure that information is presented in ways that are clear and easy to understand and create a safe and neutral space that work can be done in. Sounds simple but takes lots of attention and pre-planning on part of facilitator.

  6. I often take your group tips to our leadership monthly team meetings. These are great ways for us to build upon the principles we use in our every day practices!

  7. I am a great admirer of your tips and have found them useful in so many settings. I believe that a meeting facilitator demonstrates the value of being an “outsider”. A person that is not vested in the group’s dynamics can notice and find creative and positive ways to redirect or harness previously negative habits. In my mind there is a connection between neurology and “neut-rology” (yes, I just made that up). I have seen group discussions that were much improved when the facilitator is aware of the way that neurology can influence the discussion. For example, the leader of a discussion in a retirement facility could review the difference in brain stage for elders and how that might impact communication, cognition, hearing, perception of visual aids, etc., and make subtle adjustments as needed. If the group is led by a non-professional member of the community, this might not occur (at least not at the same level). The brain is active in different ways at different stages of life and this has a great influence on behavior and communication. Some understanding of brain physiology can help a facilitator prepare for the story-telling mode of elders, the passionate sense of priority of youth, and many points in between.

  8. Good facilitators are able to efficiently separate the chaff from the wheat, getting to the kernel of what the issues are and out emerges a clear picture of next steps for action.

  9. Great comments so far! Thanks Karen, Dan, Larry and Gordon. I agree with each of your comments.

    For those interested I have prepared a handout called Meeting Facilitation Techniques which outlines the four essential functions of meeting facilitators. You can get the handout here:

  10. Hi Craig,
    thanks for the blog and the good group tips. We need more humility when working in groups (I work in a latin “macho” culture) and your blog gives me useful insights and ideas.

    What is the value of (good) meeting facilitation?
    It is in allowing all voices to be heard and in keeping the group on a course. It can take great diplomatic skill to get some people to pass on the baton and also to get people to listen. Good facilitation involves reflecting back to clarify understanding and allow understanding but also being firm when the group is going off course. Some groups do it themselves when they have a natural facilitator in their midst, others struggle because they are all alphas trying to out-do each other or there are poliarized views which are difficult for the group to elaborate internally. That’s when facilitation can really help.

  11. Hi Craig,

    For what it’s worth:

    My hope in all meetings I attend is for every participant to be aware of what is going on and how they can add to the group’s collective knowledge and process of coming to agreement and taking action. Unfortunately, many of them don’t do that very well; they get caught up in their own “stuff” and don’t give enough attention to what the group’s needs are. That’s where a facilitator comes in–to model how the group (and its members) can clearly and efficiently work together to make decisions, take care of its responsibilities, have fun, and accomplish its goals.

  12. Hi Craig- I agree with the above points. While the profession may be new in a formal sense I think the facilitator skill set has long made the difference between meetings and gabfests (I think of the moderated New England town meeting, for example). The use of a professional facilitator is often the difference between a meeting that results in actionable outcomes vs. one that just leads to circular conversations.

  13. Hi Craig,
    I have been in way too many board meetings where the facilitator gets too engaged in the conversation, forgetting their role, and lets it go on and on, and off topic as well. Our time is precious! Having a good facilitator can help us move ahead with the agenda…priceless!

  14. And I have seen meeting facilitators make order out of chaos. In the middle of much confusion a skilled facilitator can summarize what’s been said, remind us where we are in the conversation, and tell us what we’re supposed to be commenting on next.

  15. I have seen meeting facilitators essentially stop people from saying things they might regret; prevent mean things from being said. This is done mostly by setting a deliberate pace and creating a respectful environment whereby people are forced to wait their turn to make a comment rather than blurting something out.

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