Meeting Facilitation Training – 4 Top Meeting Facilitation Mistakes

Solutions for 4 Top Meeting Facilitation Mistakes

Dear Dana,

I’m a new team leader, and honestly I don’t have much meeting facilitation experience.  I need to know the tricks of the trade.  I’ve seen a few people do it well, but many, many more struggle to make their meetings much more than a tremendous waste of time.  I really need help – what are the most common mistakes meeting leaders make, and what can I do to avoid them?

Marlise in Toronto

Dear Marlise,

You’re so smart to acknowledge meeting facilitation as a critical skill to master in your new role as team leader.  There are several very common pitfalls….here’s how to avoid them!

Pitfall #1 – Failure to Prepare

Many meeting leaders make the colossal mistake of thinking that sending out a meeting invitation is all the preparation necessary.  Invariably, these are the meeting leaders who sit exasperated at the front of the room wondering, “How did this happen?” while their meeting unravels before their eyes.

Solution #1

Most meetings fail not because of what happens during the meeting but because of what didn’t happen before the meeting.  Your best defense against a” meeting from hell” is good, solid preparation before the session.  Document (write it down – don’t just think about it!) the meeting purpose, agenda, and limit.  This process of writing down these key elements often proves harder than you might think and is a great test to let you know if you’re really prepared for your upcoming meeting.  Then, take the agenda one step further and think through how you plan to facilitate each item on the agenda.  For example, if you plan to select the top 3 functional requirements for the new system, how do you plan to do that during the meeting (discussion and majority rule, multi voting, criteria based prioritization, discussion and secret ballot vote, etc.)?  If you wait until the meeting to think about it, you’ve waited too late!

Pitfall #2 – Failure to Intervene Early when the Meeting Loses Focus

All of us have participated in too many meetings where the session lost focus and seemed to wander so much that all we could think about was the work piling up on our desk while we’re wasting our time in yet another meeting!  Too many meeting facilitators are spineless and simply watch the train wreck happen.  Don’t be one of them!

Solution #2

The meeting facilitator’s role is to step in to bring focus and direction if the discussion wanders astray.  Indeed, your job is to intervene and intervene early!  First, ensure the agenda is clearly posted with timings for each section so that you can easily refer to it if discussion wanders off topic or becomes protracted.  Use the “parking lot” to temporarily table any tangent issues that may arise.  Finally, get agreement with the group to use some mutually agreed upon signal to indicate that the meeting has lost focus and needs to be reigned in (e.g. hitting the # sign during a conference call).  (For additional tips on managing rambling discussion during a meeting, see our video clip blink below.*)  If you take these steps, your team will thank you for it!

Pitfall #3 – Failure to Debrief Your Meetings

Even good meeting facilitators often miss this key opportunity to improve their meetings.  Most are so focused on ending the meeting and moving on to the next, they rarely explicitly ask the group to provide feedback on the session, and that is so dangerous.  After all, you can’t fix what you don’t know about!

Solution #3

Get in the habit of taking 5 minutes at the end of a meeting to get feedback from the group on what worked well and what could be improved.  This is particularly important for recurring meetings (where you really have an opportunity to make improvements and benefit from the feedback).  Simply ask each person to share one element of the meeting that worked well and one suggestion for next time.  You will often be amazed by the feedback you receive, and they will be impressed when they see that you’ve actually responded by incorporating their suggestions into future sessions.  As your meetings mature, you’ll debrief less frequently, but it’s very important early on.

Pitfall #4 – Failure to Take Formal Facilitation Training

Partially because we spend so much time in meetings, many leaders fail to acknowledge leading a meeting as a real skill requiring formal training.  We’d never try to change the oil in our car without specific training on how to do it, but somehow we expect to know how to effectively lead meetings without any real training.  This is a HUGE mistake!

Solution #4

Take the time to invest in some formal meeting facilitation training.  Good training should cover not just the basics of how to plan and organize a meeting for success but also provide specific tips and techniques for how to manage those difficult personalities in your sessions – the dominator, the multitasker, the rambler, the whiner, etc.  Furthermore, ensure that the training incorporates role-playing where you have the opportunity to not just learn the techniques but also put them into action.  Up to date video vignettes are also another great way to observe and learn different facilitation techniques.   Finally find out whether the course provides supplementary materials to help you continue the learning after the event as well.

For additional tips for the new facilitation, this video shares techniques for managing difficult participants.  This video provides a preview of the content that we cover in our meeting facilitation training.