Meeting Off Track? Facilitators Keep Meetings From Derailing

Great facilitators channel group productivity to achieve results

Your organization has invented an exciting new product or is launching a new service that has been developed under the utmost secrecy. The latest and greatest in its class, this ground-breaking idea is expected to take the market by storm. But you'll only have one chance to launch it - you think your competitors may be hot on your heels with an idea of their own. Time is critical, so an offsite brainstorming meeting has been booked for the senior management team. You've been put in charge of planning this event; one that must deliver on 3 critical objectives:

  • define the new brand
  • devise a launch plan
  • map out an action strategy to get the job done.

Oh, and by the way, you need to ensure this all goes off without a hitch!

Pressure to deliver is part of the business world. The problem is that your top execs are busy. It's crucial to maximize their time at the meeting to ensure a productive outcome. There's no time to get off track, but as the meeting organizer you have to admit you're worried. A combination of very different personalities, multiple viewpoints and diverse priorities threaten to torpedo your agenda before the morning coffee break.

Does this sound familiar, by any chance?

In today's business world, this is an all too common problem. Critical meetings are not productive, effective or efficient. So, what can you do to keep your company's top minds on track and the meeting agenda on the rails? Simple. Call in the cavalry - in this case, that's a neutral, independent meeting facilitator. You may be wondering what a professional facilitator will bring to your meeting, but it's really about what they won't be bringing. As an outside, neutral party, a professional meeting facilitator isn't affected by office politics or the seniority chain. They have the ability to plan the meeting, set the tone, and outline the desired outcome. What's more, a great meeting facilitator will "read the room" - and they will tailor their presentation according to the energy level of the participants. At the end of the day, they have been hired to achieve the objectives you set for them, and they don't report to the execs at the table. That makes it easier for them to keep things on track, jumping in and even disciplining when they have to, in order to get things done. The simple fact is, it's impossible for anyone to run a meeting and participate in it at the same time. When time is of the essence and results are needed, a professional meeting facilitator is a necessity, not a luxury.

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Hiring a Facilitator
So, now that you understand and see the benefits of hiring a professional facilitator, let's talk about how the process works and what distinguishes a good facilitator from a great one.

A great meeting facilitator will schedule a preliminary talk with the person who is responsible for planning the meeting. This is the discovery stage, where the facilitator learns about the needs of the client and collects information about the meeting participants, their personalities, and any relevant group dynamics. They also ensure the goals, or deliverables, of the meeting are clear and defined by some kind of established measurement.

Next, the facilitator takes that information and creates a series of "building blocks" for the meeting agenda. Basically, this is one exercise followed by another, and another, that deliver the desired outcome from meeting participants at the end of the day. Generally, the facilitator will quality check their plan with the person who hired them, making refinements as necessary.

Basically, the bottom line is this: busy executives don't have long attention spans! They sit in meetings and think about what they're missing back at the office - so they check their smartphones, fire up their laptops, and generally disengage. When that happens, the meeting has gone off the rails and it's next to impossible to get the train back into the station. A great meeting facilitator knows that results come from engagement. Using techniques such as technology bans and time outs, facilitators expertly channel a group's focus, resulting in the desired outcome and complete buy-in from participants.

A meeting facilitator puts in many hours of preparation time before meeting day, customizing a session that will meet your deliverables, and this often includes assigning advance homework to participants. This accomplishes two things: people start thinking along the right lines and the assignment gives them some expectation of what is to come at the meeting itself.

Energy & Engagement
A great meeting facilitator will have incredibly high energy - they will captivate the room from the opening bell, and will generate passionate buy-in throughout the duration of the event. They will take an open and honest approach, outlining the goals of the meeting and defining the "rules" that will help the group arrive at the desired result.

Sometimes, though, that result is reached via a very different route than the one that has been painstakingly mapped out by the meeting facilitator. That's when a really great facilitator will shine, by changing their plan "on the fly," reading the room, and instantly adapting to the group's dynamics. This technique is tricky, though, and should be left to the professionals - in other words, don't attempt to do this yourself! It's no small feat to "time out" the president of a multi-billion dollar company when he or she starts to ramble; but facilitators do it firmly and with professionalism and integrity. Now, do you really think that an employee working for that same president would be able to time them out and get things back on track as easily? Not likely!

Post-Meeting Wrap
After the event, a great meeting facilitator will deliver a final report to their client - and it will be much more than a roll of flip chart paper where ideas were jotted down. This report will contain all the ideas generated by participants, milestones passed during the journey to the final outcome, action items, and verbal commitments made by attendees. The deliverables will be listed in the report as well, in black and white, for the client to see. And from there, it's up to them to ensure that appropriate action is taken.

At the end of the day, a professional meeting facilitator knows how to get the job done quickly, respectfully and efficiently. They ensure goals are met and make the most of the precious time executives have donated to the discussion.

Quite often in business, you only have one shot to do something right! When it comes to launching a new product, re-branding a corporate identity, assembling counter arguments for a court case, or even building an effective team, a great meeting facilitator can mean the difference between success and just another unproductive meeting. So if you want to really "rock" that important meeting - and amaze participants with how productive they were - hire a great meeting facilitator to get the job done.