Around the world, companies struggle with unproductive meetings.
Too often, meetings only result in another meeting, which frustrates teams and kills productivity. Generally, you end up in this predicament because of poor facilitation skills.
Some people believe that facilitation is an art. I was one of these people, but in time, I learned that facilitation is a technique anyone can develop.
In this article, you will learn what facilitation is, the traits of a productive meeting, and the core skills you need to facilitate effectively.
Table of contents
- What is facilitation?
- Why is facilitation important for product managers?
- What are the traits of productive meetings?
- Tips for productive meetings
- What are the core skills for effective facilitation?
What is facilitation?
Facilitation involves making collaboration easier by allowing your team to accomplish more than the sum of its parts.
Facilitation isn’t about limiting people on what they say and how they do it. Instead, it’s about designing exchanges with the right ingredients to simplify collaboration.
Good facilitation removes confusion and increases engagement.
Why is facilitation important for product managers?
When I started my journey as a product manager, I struggled to explain what my work was about. I often said, “I talk to people. Many people. The magic happens when I create value out of dozens of conversations.”
Product managers are inevitably involved in many exchanges — 1on1s, workshops, brainstorming, meetings, planning, etc. However, you can avoid getting trapped in a bad exchange. Have you ever stumbled upon one of the following scenarios:
- Entering a meeting without knowing what it was about
- Leaving a meeting without saying a word
- Ending the day and feeling like nothing productive was achieved
- Noticing that participants were physically present, but their minds were somewhere else
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s a sign you’re a victim of poorly facilitated meetings. You could be the one leading it or attending, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how you can move from unproductive to productive meetings.
What are the traits of productive meetings?
Facilitation starts before you even enter the meeting room. I thought that facilitation was about enabling people to work together and achieving results during exchanges. Although that’s right, it oversimplifies the equation.
Good facilitation ensures the following:
- Design — Exchanges are designed to reach goals, and participants know the goal beforehand
- Preparation — The facilitator prepares the session, but also ensures that informs participants how they should prepare before the session
- Mindfulness — During the session, the participant is mindful of what’s happening, how participants are interacting, and how aligned their interaction is with the goal
- Boundaries — Facilitation requires boundaries. Defining topics in the agenda isn’t enough. It’s better to prioritize and timebox each topic because it forces people to have time in mind and reflect on what’s relevant
- Identify conflicts — Facilitation requires naming conflicts in the room and helping participants solve them. The facilitator doesn’t have to solve the conflict, but needs to guide the team towards a solution
- Feedback — Reflecting on how the session went enables improvement on all sides. It’s essential to create space to give and receive feedback
Now, let’s talk about a few simple practices that can boost productivity and collaboration.
Tips for productive meetings
Unorganized and unstructured meetings will inevitably lead to confusion and kill your productivity and creativity. Apply the following rules to transform collaboration:
- Goal and motivation — Every exchange starts by outlining why the group is together and what they want to achieve
- Tune in — Help everyone contribute to the session. Have each participant share how they connect to the goal so that they arrive and identify possible conflicts
- Give the stage to the quiet ones — Turn to quieter team members and ask for their perspective. This enables a wider point of view
- Ask questions when collaboration is derailing — A good facilitator notices when a meeting moves off topic. When this happens, call it out and refocus the team
- Tune out — Leave a few minutes at the end for reflection. This lets you understand how each participant perceived the session, enabling you to make better ones in the future
What are the core skills for effective facilitation?
Facilitation is hard, but you can achieve great results. There are three main characteristics that dramatically improve facilitation:
Communication goes both ways.
One of the biggest challenges of communication is the perception of understanding. People often assume people understand them when they say something.
Active listening ensures both sides understand each other. A good facilitator carefully listens to the participants, then rephrases the core part of their message in a few words and waits for confirmation from the speaker. The paraphrasing is powerful because the speaker can review whether that was the message.
Asking open-ended questions
Good facilitators know when and how to ask questions that get the group on track. Let’s examine a simple example where the group is derailing from the agreed goal. How would you react to the following questions:
- Is this conversation important to our goal?
- Why is this conversation relevant to our goal?
- How does this conversation help us reach our goal?
The first question will probably result in a “yes” without learning and not getting the group back on track. The second question might cause people to get defensive because “why” challenges people. And the third question will enable them to step back and reflect on the goal.
It’s critical to avoid closed questions and focus on open-ended ones. What and how questions tend to be more effective, and reformulating why questions with what and how questions will enable people to be reflective.
Reading the room
Groups are different and will need different things to keep engaged. A great facilitator will read the room and address it efficiently. Some common examples are:
- Energy — The group is clearly on a low energy level. Offering them a five-minute break will help them recharge and return
- Distraction — Occasionally, someone disconnects and does something else. A good facilitator would openly ask, “I see different activities running in parallel. How does that help the group?”
- Body language — Sometimes, the body talks louder than any message. The facilitator should read what is happening and name it to participants
Reading the room is important because it enables you to take decisive action to get the group back on track.
Mastering facilitation is an important tool for getting the most out of your product team. Like anything, effective facilitation takes practice, but if you keep this article in mind you’ll be well on your way to success. Remember the following key takeaways:
- Facilitation starts before you enter the meeting room. Preparation is essential for good meetings
- Help participants understand the goal from the beginning and ensure the collaboration doesn’t derail from it
- Read the room and take action timely. Help the quiet speak up and guide the strong voices to give space to others
- Create opportunities for feedback loops to learn what works and what doesn’t
Featured image source: IconScout
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