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What is the most common meeting format, and how you can use that to have effective meetings? (Facilitation Series – 1 of 6)

Note – This is a series of blog posts where we will talk about different facilitation techniques. Once you have learned these facilitation techniques and start applying them, you will witness true collaboration, i.e., conversations in your meetings lead to new ideas or decisions. In short, the series of blog posts will help you make your meetings more effective.

1. What is Facilitation?

Scrum Guide mentions “Facilitating stakeholder collaboration as requested or needed” as one of the ways Scrum Master serves the organisation.

Facilitation is not just putting sticky notes on the whiteboard and dot voting. Facilitation is not about booking the meeting room, ordering the food, and sending the meeting invite to all participants. Facilitation is neither about leading the discussion nor the facilitator making all the decisions.

Teams discover solutions to their most complex problems within a truly collaborative space.

Facilitation is about creating that actual collaborative space.

2. What are the benefits of Facilitation?

It might come as a surprise to you, but teams generally lack the skill or the ability to indulge in productive conversation with each other without practice.

Facilitation allows you to deal with dysfunctional patterns in communication and collaboration. Facilitation pretty much fixes everything which is wrong with our meetings today. This is a tall promise.

Facilitation offers the below benefits:

  • It ensures that all the participants are clear on the purpose of the meeting.
  • The time-box of the session is respected, i.e., the session starts and ends on time (or early).
  • All participants get an opportunity to contribute.
  • The group makes clear decisions in the discussion.
  • Everyone stays engaged throughout the session. In other words, no one checks email or plays with their phone.
  • Concrete follow-up actions are agreed upon and assigned to owners to do those actions.
  • Every member is on the same page when they leave the room.
  • No one feels that they wasted their time by attending the meeting.

3. How much time should you spend on Planning for a meeting?

Planning for the meeting is an often overlooked activity.

One of the most important things you need to do as a facilitator is preparing for and planning for the meeting. The job of the facilitator doesn’t start when the session begins. It begins much earlier with the planning and preparation for the meeting.

In her book “Collaboration Explained” Jean Tabaka says, “It takes twice the length of the meeting to prepare adequately for a meeting.”.

4. What is the most common meeting format?

In his book “Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making”, Sam Kaner shares the below diagram to describe a realistic model of an effective meeting.

Let us now explore each of the stages or phases in the above diagram.

4.1 Starting (Business as Usual).

This phase aims to get everyone in the room to talk in the first 5 minutes. Evidence suggests that if people start talking in the first five minutes, they are more likely to contribute during the rest of the meeting. Hence it is a good idea to do an ice-breaker or a check-in at the start of the session. This phase also gives people an opportunity to connect with each other.

When people connect at the beginning of the session, they establish some trust or relationships early on in the meeting.

This phase is also an opportunity for the people to connect with the topic of the meeting.

It helps to know how people feel about the topic. You can also check with people what they already know about the issue.

4.2 Diverging

When the group discusses a complex problem, they won’t succeed if they stick to familiar opinions.

This phase is about participants exploring a wider range of possibilities. People refer to this part as brainstorming. As a facilitator during this phase, you support the unearthing of relevant questions, information, perspectives, and ideas.

At some point, there happens a switch into the Groan Zone.

4.3 Groaning

In our heads, we believe that once the group has brainstormed, now we will consolidate the best ideas into a proposal.

If only real life were that simple. It is difficult for people to shift into listening mode, where they stop sharing their opinions and start understanding the opinion of others. Most facilitators falter at this stage.

Facilitators feel that since the group has generated enough ideas, they announce that they have decided and share the decision.

This announcement increases the frustration of the group.

The facilitator must allow the group to discuss what they have uncovered. A facilitator job is to let the group develop a shared framework of understanding. Most significantly, the facilitator must acknowledge that we are in the Groan Zone.

A good intention to facilitate an incoherent conversation can lead to mistrust and even cynicism if the facilitator neglects the Groan Zone.

4.4 Converging

The Groan zone leads the participants into Convergent Thinking.

This phase is where participants summarise key points or sort ideas into different categories. Here the focus is on reaching one, well-defined solution to the discussed problem or issue. While converging, the group also evaluates alternatives that emerged during the divergent phase.

Creating ideas is good; however, meetings that don’t bring those together into an agreed decision or action step(s) are often a waste.

4.5 Closing

Wrapping up or closing a meeting is crucial and, ironically, most neglected.

Many meetings that run overtime neglect this part entirely. Closings can help people feel that the organiser valued their time. A proper ending to the session also allows the facilitator to get feedback.

Finally, it is time to end the meeting by reminding people of their actions and agreeing on the next steps.

In the subsequent blog posts under this series, we will discuss techniques you can use in each stage. So stay tuned.

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