Facilitation 102: Plan a great meeting

Part 2 in the Facilitation series.

Previous post: Facilitation 101

It’s frustrating to come to a meeting when the purpose isn’t clear, when people aren’t prepared, and maybe not all the right people are there. Good meetings don’t just happen on their own because people showed up at the same time to the same place. Any great meeting you’ve participated in is the result of somebody’s effort and planning to make it happen. Before you call a meeting, here are six things you can do to make sure it’s a good meeting:

1. Decide if you need a meeting.
If you make sure you really need to have a meeting, it helps participants feel that meetings are part of the work, rather than something that prevents people from getting their other work done.

2. Define the meeting purpose.
Complete this sentence:

By the end of the meeting, I want the team to… “

This helps you:
a) prepare the agenda and list of participants
b) know whether your meeting was successful

Is this a brainstorming meeting? A decision making meeting? A good meeting hinges on knowing what you’re trying to accomplish.

3. Determine who should attend.
Do you need to make decisions? Bring in the decision makers!
Do you need to brainstorm? Bring in the idea-havers!
Do you need to involve folks from more than one location? Don’t leave out the off-site folks!

4. Determine where to have the meeting.
Where to have your meeting depends on what you need. Do you need more than one conference room? Do you need a call in number? Do you need to screenshare?
Do you need to work together in a live document? Do you need videoconferencing?

5. Make an Agenda.
The agenda can be a one-sentence description of the meeting objectives, a list of the topics to be covered and a list stating who will address each topic and for how long. The agenda is a guideline, not the law — but when the meeting starts to deviate from the agenda, make sure all the participants agree to the shift. It’s everybody’s time! Send out an agenda before the meeting so participants can come prepared.

6. Give people time to prepare.
Worth re-stating: Send out the agenda before the meeting! Don’t schedule meetings without notice. Provide any read-ahead materials (last meeting’s minutes, or any new documents). Let people know what they need to bring!

Spend ten minutes thinking about these six things before you call your next meeting, and everyone in your meeting will be a little more engaged.

Next post: Facilitation 103

Facilitation 101: An introduction

Part 1 in the Facilitation series.

Time is so precious! It’s easy to feel like we don’t do any “real” work because we’re in meetings all day, but meetings are real work! They require a lot of effort and energy. If facilitated properly, they are an effective use of time. If not planned effectively, they hinder productivity. This series will explore meeting facilitation- how to make meetings great versus terrible wastes of time.

Think about the really frustrating, exhausting, and disappointing meetings you’ve  experienced. What makes them so bad? The list is long……

  • Critical people weren’t invited
  • Non-critical people were invited and took up space and time
  • Goal of meeting wasn’t clear
  • Started late and ran late
  • Location didn’t meet the team’s needs
  • Participants who weren’t prepared
  • Participants who talked off-sides or weren’t paying attention
  • Interrupters
  • No wrap up or path forward coming out of the meeting
  • Sidetracking or derailing from meeting objective (also known as “scope creep”)The trick here is that you can’t have scope creep until you have a scope, which is a separate failure in many a bad meeting, leading to jokes like this t-shirt:


and meetings that make you want to stab your eyes out, and songs like Time Pirate by Tacocat:

“Time pirate, you’ve robbed me of my day. I’d rather walk the plank than hear what else you have to say.”

Now think about the really good, productive meetings you’ve experienced. What makes them so good? Why do they feel satisfying and productive? What makes a meeting great? The list is short:

  • Preparation
  • Awesome people

Next post: Facilitation 102