Facilitation Skills

The skills associated with professional facilitation go far beyond the essential meeting management tools noted below – see facilitator definition for a broader view of the topic.  The three overarching principles of effective facilitation are (1) respect for others, (2) planning, and (3) staying focused on desired outcomes.  Becoming an effective facilitator will distinguish you from your peers and assure high attendance at the meetings you schedule.

Here are some essential tips for developing your facilitation skills –

1.  Preparation is Everything – Write an Agenda

an agenda is a strong facilitation toolWrite an agenda that includes desired outcomes, and review it with the attendees at the start of the meeting.  Having an agenda will keep the meeting focused.

2.  Do These Things at the Start of the Meeting

  • Start on time
  • Review the agenda and desired outcomes.  Ask the team, “Are we missing any discussion topics that will bring us to the desired outcomes for this meeting”?  Update the agenda on the fly if needed, based on the input you receive.  This step lets the team know that they have a say in the meeting and that you value their input.
  • Create a “Parking lot” and ask for a volunteer.  This is a very important facilitation skill that will help keep your meetings on track.  A parking lot (on an easel pad or white board – it must be visible to the group) captures important points that fall outside the meeting agenda.  facilitation skill - parking lotWhen a discussion ensues on a “sideline topic”, hear the participants out for a minute then say something like, “That sounds like an important point that we should capture in the parking lot for follow up.”  If the participant is long-winded in their discussion of the sideline topic, ask them to summarize their thought in one sentence for the parking lot attendant.
  • Ask for a scribe volunteer to summarize decisions and follow-up actions.   All other items should go to the parking lot.
  • For larger groups, ask for a timekeeper volunteer as well.  A timekeeper can let you know when it’s time to switch agenda topics, take breaks, etc.

3.  Keeping the Meeting on Track

  • Follow the agenda, but use your good judgement.  It’s rare that a meeting will follow the allocated time slots perfectly for each agenda item.  Use your judgement to decide when to move on to the next topic.
  • Use the parking lot, as noted above.
  • Gently stop any sidebar discussions.  Sidebar discussions happen when two or more participants start their own discussion separate from the other meeting participants.  These sidebar discussions are normally well-intended, but can be very disruptive to the group.  It’s important to manage sidebar discussions carefully, without offending the attendees.  One approach is to simply state, “Team, I need your help in keeping this meeting to one discussion at a time – thank you.”

4.  Summarize Decisions and Actions at the Close of the Meeting

  • Plan time in the agenda to review the decisions and actions, along with any next steps for the parking lot items.  If you asked for a scribe volunteer at the start of the meeting, you can simply defer to them at this point, along with the parking lot attendant.  Be sure that actions include owners and timing.

There are other techniques that can be added to your facilitation skill set, but following the methods noted above will make your meetings much more effective and distinguish you in your organization!