The Fine Art of Facilitation

Have you been in a great meeting recently? I know for some of you that may sound like an impossibility. My fear is many of you can’t remember the last time you went to a great meeting. One reason we attend so many low impact meetings is absence of a skilled facilitator.

Although many elements must come together to create a successful meeting – none are more important than a good facilitator. Being a great facilitator is not hard to do if you clearly understand the role.
Have you ever thought about what the word facilitator actually means? The origin of the word reveals an individual who removes barriers for others. Let’s explore how that might manifest itself in the context of a meeting.
A facilitator should both anticipate barriers in advance and remove them in real time during the meeting. Following are examples of both.

Before the Meeting…

It would be a barrier if the right people weren’t invited. A good facilitator will invite them.

It would be a barrier if there were no agenda distributed in advance. You can remove that obstacle by ensuring one goes out before the meeting.

It would be a barrier if the wrong items were on the agenda. A skilled facilitator does the necessary pre-work to determine the highest priority items and places them on the agenda.

It would be a barrier if you didn’t have a place to meet. Secure a venue and publish the location.

It would be a barrier if you didn’t have the needed technology to conduct the meeting - even if the “technology” is nothing more than a flip chart. Determine in advance what’s needed.

It would be a barrier if there were no meeting norms. The best facilitators help groups establish these.

By taking the above actions, and others like them, you are pre-emptively removing barriers and improving your odds of having a productive meeting.

During the meeting…

It would be a barrier if members of the group were not participating. You can ask individuals for their thoughts during the meeting.

It would be a barrier if the conversation turned ugly. You can stop the dialogue and ask people to repeat their understanding of the other person’s point-of-view.

It would be a barrier if the group were ignoring your meeting norms. A facilitator will reference and enforce these norms.

It would be a barrier if someone were dominating the conversation. You can ask him or her to hold their next thought and allow others to comment.

It would be a barrier if there were no process for solving problems. The facilitator should be skilled in several approaches and models.

It would be a barrier if no one were capturing action items. Be sure someone is.

It would be a barrier if no one were keeping track of the time. The facilitator may choose to do this or assign someone else to watch the clock.

It would be a barrier if the conversation were allowed to wander off the agenda. You can redirect by capturing “Other Issues” for future meetings or outside conversations.

Although this is a partial list, I think you get the idea. A great facilitator helps make meetings productive! Without this crucial role, most meetings flounder.
The next time you find yourself in a great meeting, be sure to thank the facilitator.[GLS_Shield]
What barriers have you experienced as a facilitator? How did you overcome them? I'd love to hear from you on this. You can leave your comments below.

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Scott Friend

9 years ago

This is a great play-by-play for a constructive meeting. All too often I think we've all experienced meeting where people aren't involved, things get off topic, and eventually a 15 minute meeting somehow becomes an hour.
Being a good facilitator definitely involves being organized, being timely, getting everyone's input, and not being afraid to take charge if things are getting off topic.
One additional problem that seems to happen more often than not is that of people wanting to discuss issues that don't pertain to everyone in the meeting. When this has occurred in any meeting I'm in, I just politely use the statement "we can discuss that offline after this meeting." It's direct and they get the point.
Great post.

Jon Stallings

9 years ago

Great points Mark. I have never heard explained before that a facilitator as a barrier remover. - It is odd that meetings so consume the business world yet they are often conducted poorly. - It like it is just assumed you know how to make them happen.

What is a facilitator? - LIFE Notes

9 years ago

[…] site, Mark is currently writing a series of posts entitled “The Fine Art of Facilitation” (Part 1) (Part 2). Mark defines a facilitator as “an individual who removes barriers for others”. In […]

Great Leaders Serve | By Mark Miller | The Fine Art of Facilitation – Part 2

8 years ago

[…] week, I wrote about some of the ways a facilitator increases the odds of making a meeting successful. Today, I want to talk about the role of the facilitator in a different setting – a learning […]


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