Being given the task of facilitating a meeting can induce fear in even the most extroverted personalities. And if you’re naturally introverted, well, your stress levels will go sky high without a plan. Maybe you engage individuals well enough, but you’d rather be a participant in the meeting, rather than the facilitator. For me, just the thought of standing up before a group of individuals and extracting their opinions makes my heart race.
But even if you shun facilitation, you can probably name the time and place where you were in a meeting that was poorly led. No one knew the end goal or why they were there. Or, they knew the end goal but had different opinions on how to get there and there was no cohesive process to manage the differences. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there was that meeting where the facilitator not only led the conversation but pretty well determined the outcome, leaving you thinking, “Well, why are WE here if you already know the answer?”
I’ve been in all of them — the good, the bad, the ugly. If the facilitation was well done, everyone left the meeting thinking they accomplished something and they personally contributed to that something. They left with good feelings. If it went poorly, they probably told their peers not to bother attending such meetings in the future.
Meeting facilitation is a learned skill, one that is becoming more important as cross-sector, cross-functional, cross-whatever groups tackle community problems and opportunities. With increased interest in “community conversations” and “focus groups,” there are few nonprofits that are not engaged in bringing groups of people together to gauge interest or evaluate the community’s will and commitment to their mission.
I would argue that everyone in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors could benefit from learning techniques for structuring group interactions (a.k.a. meetings) so that time is used more efficiently and effectively. With careful planning, some understanding of group dynamics, and a few tools to manage group processes, anyone can lead a meeting that leaves participants feeling a sense of accomplishment rather than frustration.