Your Meetings Suck: How Managers Facilitate Influential, Productive Meetings – Part 1

There’s a difference between facilitating a conversation and managing a meeting from a soapbox.

When managers stand on their soapbox, the consequences of preaching are severe, since they’re the only one participating in the meeting. Here’s how to avoid the stale, monotonous meetings and reinvigorate ones that create the engagement, buy-in, alignment and accountability you need to achieve greater results.

The Mundane Meeting

“I’m so frustrated with my team.” A common theme I hear from managers. In fact, this is where a large majority of managers start off during their coaching sessions.

Like most managers, it’s inevitable that you’re going to be in front of your team conducting meeting after meeting. Regardless of the topic, the typical modus operandi of most managers is to lead the meeting with their agenda, share the context of the meeting and then proceed on presenting to the team what needs to be done, by who and when the particular goal, objective or change needs to be completed.

As you can imagine, the manager expects the team to understand, agree and just, “Get it done.” While some managers end the meeting with, “Does anyone have any questions,” what typically ensues is silence from the team and as such, the manager concludes the meeting, thinking the objective of the meeting was clear, has been achieved and their team knows what to do.

Then comes the shock to the system. While some team members honor the manager’s objectives and the tasks that need to be completed, either the task is not done as effectively as it needs to be or it’s simply not done at all.

The manager then assesses results and reacts by thinking, “What is wrong with these people? I was pretty clear what needed to be done. So why can’t they just do it?”

What does it even sound like if you’re not longer standing on your soapbox preaching to everyone? What does it mean to actually facilitate a meeting? If you look up the definition of facilitate, it’s defined as, “Making an action or process easy or easier.” And the word, facilitator is defined as, “Someone who engages in the activity of facilitation. They help a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan how to achieve these objectives. In doing so, the facilitator remains “neutral,” meaning he/she does not take a particular position in the discussion.”

Get Off Your Soapbox

Managers need to facilitate more than they pontificate. When a manager gets in front of their team during a meeting and does most of the talking, they’re engaging in what I refer to as soapbox management. What needs to happen in order to produce breakthrough results during every meeting? The manager needs to stop engaging in soapbox management or preaching to their people. When managers point fingers and tell people what to do, how to do it or what they’re doing wrong, people’s defenses are heightened. Consequently, they stop listening and their level of buy-in and engagement around what needs to get done diminishes. The solution? Get off your soapbox and start leading with questions in order to focus on other people’s opinion and what’s important to them regarding a particular topic, instead of preaching from the tower about what’s important to you and what should be done.

Reset the Expectations of Your Meetings

In order to create a culture of collaboration rather than a culture of control and competition, here is an example of a bullet-proof facilitation strategy, along with some questions that will help you successfully facilitate your next meeting. While you may feel the initial conversation you need to have below is a bit wordy, keep in mind, it’s a template, so make it your own, while keeping the spirit of the message intact.

First, set the expectation of the meeting and how it will be structured. That’s an enrollment conversation that would re-set expectations, create alignment and buy-in and demonstrate the value your team would realize from these newly structured meetings. Here’s a template you can use. As mentioned, if need be, refine this message so that it fits your style of communication.

“What I want for each person on the team is to feel that each time we get together, we actually leave feeling inspired, that each of you made a contribution and we created an authentic culture of support and collaboration that results in a highly productive meeting.

In order to achieve this, I’m taking full responsibility in terms of how I will go about facilitating these meetings moving forward. After reflecting back on our prior meetings, I realize that I could have done a better job in many ways and for that, I want to apologize to each of you if you feel I was directive rather than gain your buy-in, leverage your strengths and opinions, or if I’ve ever offended you in any way. The fact is, I’ve done you a disservice because I truly value you and your opinion, experience and expertise and I know each of us have opinions on how to achieve our goals or resolve certain challenges. Besides, you’re the expert in your position and I want to start to leveraging your talents more frequently during every meeting, since I don’t always have the answers. Just like in sports, it takes a team to win the game.

And I know in many ways I need to earn your trust back. So, I realize that it’s going to be a bit of a change for all of us, and chances are I’m not going to get it right the first few times, which is why I’ll be asking for your feedback on how I can improve as a facilitator. However, I’m committed to making this a healthy, enjoyable, collaborative and positive environment, even when we have to discuss things that may be perceived as difficult. But in order to do that, I’ll need your commitment to this new way of doing things as well.

So, are you all willing to create a new atmosphere which will allow us all to open up, create a trusting environment by respecting each other’s point of view and share best practices with the goal of each of us becoming more successful at our jobs?”

Once you’ve reset expectations, embraced your humanity, taken ownership of the past and the new process moving forward, and most important, shared what the benefit each person will realize from this change, here are just a handful of questions to help facilitate your next meeting.

Lead with Questions, Not Answers

Weekly, monthly or quarterly meetings can get stale quickly. It also puts unnecessary pressure on the manager to find a way to keep the meetings engaging and valuable. This is your opportunity to remove the burden and the pressure to make every meeting successful. Instead of believing that it is solely the responsibility of the manager to run a successful meeting, you can lead the meeting with questions in order to tap into each person’s experience, knowledge and creativity. Fostering healthy, open and rich collaboration can only occur when the manager steps down off of their soapbox.

Once you have set the expectations of how the meeting will be structured and introduce the topic of the meeting, it will be the questions you use that will empower your team to open up and share their ideas, opinions and solutions. Please note that these questions, for the most part, are organic. That is, they are in no particular order. So treat them like a buffet. Use the ones that you feel would work best for the type of meeting that you are facilitating.

Here are 39 questions that top leaders use to transform meetings from worthless to worthwhile, high impact meetings that that will energize, inspire and invigorate your team so that they feel acknowledged, part of the solution and they’re authentically contributing to achieve more. I’ve broken these questions into two groups. The first group are the questions that you can always use that are more applicable to any type of meeting. The second group of questions dive deeper into a meeting or off -site event.

38 Facilitation Questions to Inspire Collaborative, Worthwhile Meetings

The Top 14 Facilitation Questions to Use

  1. What do you feel the common goal and expectation/intention is of this meeting?
  2. Who is open to supporting the team by starting this discussion and sharing some ideas to stimulate our conversation?
  3. What is another way of looking at this?
  4. That’s a great idea. Who has a different opinion around what we’ve been discussing so far?
  5. That’s interesting. What else can be true?
  6. I certainly have my opinion around this, and I’m happy to share it. However, before I do, I’m more interested in hearing your thoughts first, since in many ways, you’re closer to this situation than I am and I trust you and your judgement around this. Can someone else please share some additional thoughts or reactions around what we’ve been discussing?
  7. What assumptions might we be making around this issue?
  8. What are the facts that support your opinion/assumption? How do you know that this is the absolute truth?
  9. How can we look at this in a way that would change our thinking for the better?
  10. Thanks for sharing your opinion, I really appreciate it. Let’s walk through our solution and approach together to ensure it will achieve the results we want, see how it could play out and together, share some best practices each of us have used in similar situations to create the best possible outcome.
  11. What would be possible if we were able to achieve these results?
  12. What concerns, if any, do you have at this point?
  13. Let’s spend the last few minutes summarizing the meeting, what our next steps are and any deadlines associated with what we’ve discussed so that we’re all clear and aligned around what each of us need to do.
  14. How are you feeling about what we discussed and achieved today?

24 Additional Facilitation Questions to Use

  1. Where do we all want to be at the end of this meeting? What is your expectation and what do you want to leave with?
  2. What do you hope to accomplish over the next (hour, day, etc.)?
  3. What preliminary information do you need from me to provide some context around this conversation?
  4. What areas do you want to cover that are most important to you?
  5. I’d like to hear from more of you regarding your opinions around this. Who is the next person to share some additional ideas?
  6. What’s the alternative?
  7. How could that impact the outcome? (Your relationship, the customer, your peer, your direct report, performance, etc.)
  8. What’s your reaction/opinion around what you just heard?
  9. Let’s continue to build off that last point. Can someone else share their point of view or build upon what we’ve just heard?
  10. Imagine if this would be possible. What would that mean to (you, the company, your clients, our business objectives, etc.)
  11. What would the process, strategy or conversation look and sound like? Where do we need to start?
  12. At this point, what do we all agree on so far? What alignment do we all share?
  13. What part of this solution does anyone have any concerns about? Why?
  14. What else might be missing that we need to look at so we don’t step over something important?
  15. Let’s identify the people who are willing to take some ownership around resolving this/achieving this objective?
  16. What role is each of us committing to here?
  17. What do we see as next steps?
  18. What teams can we put together to foster healthy collaboration and get to where we need to go as efficiently as possible?
  19. What is your preference in terms of how you like to be supported?
  20. How can we hold each other accountable in a way that would sound supportive and not negative or offensive?
  21. How can we approach each other if someone doesn’t follow through with their commitments?
  22. How do each of you like to be communicated to? What’s the best away for us to communicate when it comes to resolving this? Does anyone have any preferred method of how they like to communicate and collaborate? (Text, phone, in person, instant message, email, team meetings, etc.)
  23. What are some of your take-aways from this meeting? What did you find most valuable?
  24. What, if anything would you like to change or do differently for our next meeting?

Abandon Absolute Thinking

There’s a strong chance that as a manager, you may be a victim of what I refer to as an absolute or linear thinker. That is, you’re wired to believe things are either this way or that way, black or white, and right or wrong. Consider this truth and open up your thinking for a moment. Just like coaching, start playing in the gray area. After all, this is the space where rigidity is suspended and breakthroughs occur. Therefore, embrace the duality of conflicting truths that can both be true and can co-exist at the same time.

My point is, even if you’re leading or facilitating with questions, you can also make suggestions and share you own experiences and options. However, you do this after you’ve heard from everyone else. Seek to understand other people’s point of view before you share yours. Otherwise, once the manager shares their opinion, you run the risk of shutting down the rest of the meeting.

So, do yourself and your team a favor. Start authentically facilitating meetings by making the inner-shift and commitment to become someone who is an effective facilitator, rather than stand on your soapbox, telling people what to do. If you’re looking to take the first step to doing so, here it is. Take out a hammer and destroy our soapbox. You no longer have any use for it.