If you are going to have a meeting, have a reason!

When participants know the overall purpose of a meeting they have been invited to attend, when they know where they fit into an overall plan, then they are more likely to be helpful and engaged.

I recently co-taught a class called Facilitative Leadership. It is a three-day workshop developed by Michigan State University Extension staff which targets both new and experienced leaders and managers who would like to develop or improve their leadership skills. During the workshop participants assemble a toolbox of facilitative competencies and techniques through many hands-on activities aimed at launching future effective and efficient meetings, leading to quality participatory teamwork.

One of the key elements of the final participant-led practice facilitation of the workshop is to identify the ultimate intention or reason behind the meeting they are planning. What is the long-term or ultimate purpose? Why should those who attend care? Why are they addressing this topic?

The next step when planning their meeting is to isolate what it is they hope to accomplish, based on the defined overall purpose. Why does this group need to meet at this time? For example, the desired outcome may be for the group to clarify, brainstorm, discuss, analyze, prioritize or complete an action plan.

A prepared facilitator, one who has thought through a process and what tools can best help a group to achieve their goals, is a valued leader. Facilitation tools should be thought out and incorporated into a meeting based on the desired outcome (brainstorming, prioritizing, action plan development, etc.). If done this way, it is more likely that an effective and efficient meeting will occur, and participants will feel ownership of the outcomes.

These are the six basic steps we use to help participants plan and lead an effective meeting:

  1. Write a clear statement of the issue or topic and the overall purpose of the facilitation or meeting.
  2. Determine distinct goals and outcomes using action verbs. What does the facilitator want the group to accomplish during the allotted time?
  3. What tool(s) will help achieve the stated goals or outcomes?
  4. What specific question(s) should be asked to help participants understand the purpose and generate the ideas and information needed?
  5. What materials are required to effectively use the tools that have been chosen?
  6. What words should be used to introduce the topic, the goals and the hoped for outcomes of the facilitation or meeting? How will the tool(s) and facilitative process be explained to the participants? Both oral and visual props should be used.

The framework for designing an effective meeting really is quite simple. To learn more about the tools, skills and techniques fundamental to planning powerful meetings and the importance of facilitative leadership, check out the class description. Also, consider registering for the highly acclaimed MSU Extension Facilitative Leadership workshop, scheduled for March 2014.

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