Be the facilitator meeting culture needs

Meetings are important. They are the yellow brick road to achievement; vital to company success. We need them. However, I think we can all agree that a good chunk of the meetings on our calendar is time-wasters and highly frustrating. One-third of the 11 million meetings that take place in the U.S. daily are unproductive, according to Business Insider. That translates to an estimated annual loss of $37 billion in unproductive meetings. That is insanity; insanity that can be prevented.

Significantly, it does feel like there is a change happening in corporate culture today; teams are starting to focus more on how to approach meetings in a new way to save time, provide more time for heads-down work, and improve morale. It’s important to recognize that when meetings are done right, they can take your business to the next level.

What does this look like? Doing the work in the meetings, not after. This is one of our meeting mantras at Voltage Control. It redefines the common perception of meetings altogether. Instead of actionless discussions, we view meetings as collaborative group work sessions, where there is a clear purpose, inclusivity, high engagement, productivity, and tangible outcomes.

Too many meetings are spent talking about what needs to be done instead of actually doing it.

If you’ve noticed that your team or organization has fallen into bad meeting habits, here are tips to have more effective meetings.

Run Effective Meetings

1. Identify a clear purpose 

You must have an identified, tangible purpose to call your team together if you want it to be productive, something to work toward.

Last year at Control the Room, a summit we host for facilitators, the master facilitator Priya Parker spoke on the “Art of Gathering.” One of the many things I love about what she says in her book is how, before you plan anything, you have to dig deep to identify the real purpose of your meeting. Priya feels that when you have a good purpose for your gathering, it helps you make better decisions. Your purpose is your “bouncer.” It lets you know what is right and wrong for your particular event.

Next time you are planning a meeting, take more time to think about the purpose of your gathering and use that clear purpose to set your agenda, plan your activities, and outline your attendees.

2. Create an effective agenda 

When you’ve decided to hold a meeting, you need to outline your activities. 

Preparation is key to running a successful meeting. Once you have identified your meeting objective, create and share a meeting agenda of what needs to be discussed to achieve that goal. A meeting agenda serves as an outline of the essential topics to address. What will be talked through with your team and for how long? Intentionally construct the agenda–include only what is crucial and pertains to the objective–then send it to all attendees ahead of time so they know what to expect and are on the same page. Once you’re in the meeting, stick to the schedule. Respect everyone’s time; stay on track.

3. Hold a longer meeting 

While we’re all trying to cut down on our daily meetings, there may be moments when more in-depth conversations are needed, and longer meetings are necessary. In the Harvard Business Review article “A Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Better Meetings” author Liane Davey talks about the power of what she calls strategic directions meetings: “Between two and six times per year, your leadership team needs to lift your eyes to the horizon and re-evaluate your strategy. This should be a lengthy meeting that provides ample time to meander.

So, while you’re taking the time to focus your day-to-day meetings (and getting rid of as many as you can!), don’t forget to schedule extra time for the big meetings that need to happen.

4. Bring a prototype 

Bring a prototype to your next meeting.
Bring a prototype to your next meeting.

Another one of our meeting mantras is “no prototype, no meeting.” That means if there is not a clear and tangible “prototype” or idea to flush out and explore, then there is no reason to have a meeting in the first place. If you want to jump-start your meeting and make it more engaging and useful, start bringing a prototype to your session.

“The reason for prototyping is experimentation — the act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices. It also gives you something you can show to and talk about with other people.” — Tom and David Kelley

A prototype can take many forms. Some examples are a storyboard, mood board, written brief, sample pitch of an idea, or coding. The structure of a prototype sets your team up to do the work in the meeting. Your team is able to discuss it and collectively work on it DURING the meeting instead of saving the to-dos for when people return to their own work zones. 

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5. Debrief 

Allot time at the end of the meeting to debrief with the group. Remind team members of the major takeaways to help with retention and successfully transition them to pursue next steps. Summarize the discussed topics, obtained information, and the decisions or insights reached. Then, divvy out the tasks that need to be done to bring the discussed idea(s) to life, including when they must be completed by, and by whom. This is also part of doing the work in the meeting. Assign tasks to appropriate parties, communicate clear deadlines, then release everyone to tackle their responsibilities.

Good Meetings Require Good Facilitators

If your meetings lack organization, participant engagement, and diverse outcomes, expert facilitation can help. Here’s the thing: technically, anyone who runs a meeting–whether good or bad–is a facilitator. If you’re running a meeting, you’re facilitating. So how do you ensure you are facilitating meetings effectively?

A facilitator’s job is to actively guide teams through the decision-making process to reach goals and desired outcomes. They are unbiased leaders removed from emotion about office politics, which allows them to objectively lead with a clear vision of the sought-after goal. Their purpose is to ensure that a team meets its objectives, has fruitful conversations, and that the group gets what they need and want from the gathering. A good facilitator has the following qualities:

  • Confidence: Able to control the room and keep participants interested and engaged.
  • Humility: Knows the meeting is not about them and relishes that fact.
  • Flexibility: Comfortable course-correcting during the meeting if things change, participants need something different, or the agenda needs to be amended on the fly.
  • Curiosity: Interested in their team’s/client’s problems, insight, and challenges and is excited to learn more about them.

Facilitation is an art. Therefore, it is a continuous practice. That’s why we host a free weekly community facilitation practice at our Facilitation Lab, which is focused on helping facilitators hone their craft to help improve the quality of meetings. Join us to practice your facilitation approach, learn new skills, and connect with and learn from fellow facilitators. Let’s all be our best as facilitators so we can help make meetings exceptional.

Still need help building a better meeting? Bring in a professional facilitator from Voltage Control.

Voltage Control designs and facilitates innovation training, Design Sprints, and design thinking workshops. Please reach out to us at if you want to talk.

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