As funders, you may participate in board meetings and site visits, committee meetings and funder collaboratives, grantee convenings and focus groups, staff meetings, and more. Having adept facilitation skills can make these gatherings more efficient, engaging and enjoyable for all.
Here are ten ways to boost your facilitation skills:
1. Plan, plan, plan
Most facilitation success comes down to good planning. If you take time to plan well, from considering logistics to crafting smart agendas to prepping participants in advance, you have won half the battle. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to commit twice as much meeting time to planning it.
2. Engage the right stakeholders
As you think about what you want to accomplish at a meeting, consider who needs to be at the table, and who does not. If you find that parts of your meeting require a larger or smaller group, don’t hesitate to plan accordingly.
3. Have a strong agenda
A thoughtful agenda is the road map for a successful meeting. So, start by identifying your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Then, design your activities and discussions to serve those goals. Be realistic about what’s possible in the time available, and prioritize those topics that will benefit most from group discussion. Agendas are not, however, set in stone. Deviating from an agenda can sometimes be the soundest course of action.
4. Be clear about the meeting type
Meetings take all shapes and sizes: informational meetings, brainstorming meetings, input-gathering meetings, decision-making meetings, multiday retreats, and more. As you plan, and communicate with your stakeholders, be clear about what type of meeting you are facilitating.
5. Delineate roles
What roles will individuals play? Who will facilitate all or part of the meeting? Who will keep time? Take notes? Manage logistics? One person need not (and should not) do it all. Particularly for long or complex meetings, be sure to divide the roles.
When thinking about key meeting roles, do your best to identify the positional leader, the person others defer to because of position or title. This person may be a family foundation’s matriarch or patriarch, an executive director, or a board chair.
At times, it can be helpful (and a strong moment of power sharing and role clarification) for the positional leader to explicitly affirm the facilitator. For example, a board chair may say,
“I want to thank Jane for leading today’s discussion. I look forward to participating.”
6. Beware of the balancing act
Those who facilitate within their organizations encounter a tricky balancing act. You must fulfill the facilitator’s role, while also having skin in the game. In-house facilitators help guide conversations and keep meetings on track while, at the same time, having personal perspectives to voice. Consider stating explicitly,
“I’m going to step out of my role as facilitator now and weigh in on the discussion, because I have some information and opinions I’d like to share.”
7. Use visuals wisely
Choosing low-tech or higher-tech visuals depends on the group, meeting type, and your facilitation style. Some default to an easel pad and markers. Others opt for PowerPoint slides. What matters most is that your visuals help to strengthen the agenda and serve its goals.
8. Logistics matter
Location, timing, room temperature, high-protein snacks for brain power, attentiveness to accessibility issues, thoughtful breaks, etc., all contribute to the success of meetings. Don’t overlook these small details.
9. Preempt trouble
As you prepare for an upcoming meeting, you’ll often know what will be troublesome. Perhaps it’s too many agenda items and too little time. It could be a particular individual who never does pre-work, or never shows up on time. Perhaps it’s a dominating personality who never allows space for others to speak. Or maybe, it’s simply knowing that the group prefers to chat for half an hour before the meeting.
Rather than wishing for the challenge to disappear, address it in advance. Agenda too jammed? What can you remove? Dominating personality? Spend time with the person before the meeting to hear any concerns. The group needs 30 minutes to chat? Build that time into the meeting agenda.
10. Facilitate from any seat
You can serve as a gentle and helpful facilitator from any seat in the room. That is, even if you’re not the facilitator or positional leader, you can help make meetings better. For example, you can ask in advance or in the moment,
“Can we pause to make sure we’re all clear about our goals for this meeting?”
Or, you can name what you see going on,
“It seems like we’re really stuck on this particular detail.”
Similarly, you can help keep time,
“I see that we only have 20 minutes left. What would be the best use of our remaining time?”
Indeed, every meeting is an opportunity for change. But dramatic shifts won’t happen overnight. However, persistent, thoughtful planning, and well-facilitated meetings can help move organizations toward greater effectiveness, impact and joy.