The magic of great facilitation

At the end of every meeting we facilitate, we ask the broad question “How did we do?” One of the most common comments is “These Myrna meetings are so effective, how can we make our normal meetings work as well?”

Maria Birkhead took up the challenge to document the best of the meeting techniques she and our facilitators have developed from the crucible of actual meetings. 

A well-facilitated meeting will enhance teamwork, improve results, and reduce everyone’s stress. Poorly facilitated meetings not only waste everyone’s time, they often damage teamwork and breed cynicism. Whether you facilitate often, occasionally, or just want to see your meetings become more successful, this is the book for you.




Facilitator skills

The success of a strategic planning meeting is highly dependent on the skills of the meeting facilitator.  The University of Georgia has identified the 14 top skills essential of a good facilitator. The list of skills (below) is taken from an article by Vikki Clawson, Bob Bostrom, and Rob Anson,"The Role of the Facilitator in Computer Supported Meetings," Small Group Research, 24:4 (November 1993), pp. 547-565. 

Choose your facilitator wisely

Select someone experienced in the strategic planning process. It stands to reason that someone who facilitates strategic planning retreats week in and week out is going to be more experienced and effective than someone who does it once in a while or even once a year. The power and value of experience becomes crucial when the planning retreat doesn't go exactly as planned.

Select someone with real-world business knowledge and experience. This experience allows the facilitator to do a better job of relating to basic company issues. On the other hand, it is not necessary nor even desirable that the facilitator come from your industry. The industry knowledge and plan should flow from the team's heads, since they are the ones who will be implementing it. Sometimes it is hard for facilitators to keep their distance from a market they grew up in.

Select someone who can establish credibility with the team. People implement better when they believe. If the team doesn't believe in the facilitator then they may not believe in the plan. Be sure to select someone who has good chemistry with the CEO and the team.

Select someone who can educate the team as well as facilitate the process. All management teams have uneven experience. This retreat is an excellent opportunity to learn.

Select someone who can earn the CEO's respect.
Select someone with presence. Executives and CEOs are a rowdy bunch. You need someone who can get the group back on course when they start to wander off-track.

Don't ask a team member to facilitate, especially the CEO. Team member contributions are too intense and too valuable to be diluted worrying about when to break for lunch, where the rest rooms are and other meeting details. Further, a facilitator that is seen as a neutral party can steer the group through discussions of the really tough issues.

It is a false economy to facilitate the process yourself. Time and time again, companies find that they either don't finish the agenda or worse yet, finish the entire agenda in a few hours because the meeting becomes a presentation by the CEO.

#1 Skill - Planning

The facilitator involves the meeting leader or initiator in planning; develops clear meeting outcomes (goals); designs an agenda and selects group processes on the basis of those outcomes; clarifies ground rules; learns about the group members ahead of time; and uses appropriate tools, such as visual aids or meeting software..

#2 Skill - Listening

The facilitator really listens to what the group is saying and makes an effort to make sense out of it; clarifies goals, terms, and definitions; reiterates participant responses; remembers previous comments to reconnect information; and helps organize information into themes.

#3 Skill - Flexibility

The facilitator adapts the agenda or meeting activities on the spot, as needed; handles multiple tasks smoothly; adapts personal style to the group; and tries new things.

#4 Skill - Focus

The facilitator has a definite direction and knows where to go next in the agenda; clearly communicates the task to the group; and keeps the group's comments relevant to the desired outcome.

#5 Skill - Encouraging participation

The facilitator draws out individuals by asking questions; gets people involved early on; controls dominant people to ensure equal participation; provides anonymity and confidentiality when needed; acknowledges and is open to the group's contributions; and uses humor, games, music, and play to enhance an open, positive environment.

#6 Skill - Managing

The facilitator leads the group through the meeting process; uses the agenda to guide the group; sets time limits, enforces group rules, and limits choices; provides models, frameworks, and processes to guide the group; uses breaks effectively; and checks progress and reactions with the meeting leader and group.

#7 Skill - Questioning

The facilitator considers how to work questions that encourage thought and participation, and develops thoughtful questions on the spot, when necessary.

#8 Skill - Promoting ownership

The facilitator helps the group take responsibility for the meeting and its outcomes; helps the group create follow-up plans; turns the floor over to others; permits the group to call its own breaks; and encourages the group to evaluate the process.

#9 Skill - Building rapport

The facilitator demonstrates responsiveness and respect for people; is sensitive to emotions; watches and responds to nonverbal signals; empathizes with individuals who have special needs; helps develop constructive relationships with and among members; greets and mingles with the group; and uses the group's own words and symbols..

#10 Skill - Self-awareness

The facilitator recognizes and deals with his or her own behavior or feelings; behaves confidently; behaves honestly -- openly admits mistakes and lack of knowledge; shows enthusiasm; and keeps his or her ego out of the discussions.

#11 Skill - Managing conflict

The facilitator encourages the group to handle conflict constructively; provides techniques to help the group deal with conflict; helps the group gain agreement and consensus on issues; and allows the group to vent negative emotions constructively.

#12 Skill - Broadening discussion

The facilitator encourages looking at issues from different points of view, and uses techniques, metaphors, stories, and examples to get the group to consider different frames of reference.

#13 Skill - Understanding the technology

The facilitator is familiar with any technology used; clearly understands tools and their functions and capabilities; and solves common technical difficulties.

#14 Skill - Presenting information

The facilitator gives explicit instructions; uses clear and concise language in presenting ideas; gives the group written information such as handouts and printouts; provides research and background information; presents models and framework clearly; and makes important information visible on flipcharts or overhead transparencies.

All Myrna Associates facilitators possess these skills, and know how to use them effectively to help make your meetings productive.