Libraries, the universe and everything

How not to run a meeting
July 15, 2014, 11:48
Filed under: Events | Tags: , ,

This was one of the most innovative sessions I’ve ever attended – rather than just another presentation, 5 volunteers from the audience were picked to dramatize a 9-act play. All the actors got properly into their characters, and as the acts were interspersed with opportunities for group discussion the audience were encouraged to get involved too.

The session was run by Dave Pollard, and was structured around a manual for facilitating group work which he helped to create. They discovered that although the topics in the manual broke down into 9 main areas, the advice within each was sufficiently granular, so it was ultimately produced in a card-deck format. Copies can be purchased or downloaded (free) from and I encourage you to take a look, as it contains much perceptive, practical advice.

The main point seemed to be that for handling any significant or serious issue, a specific facilitator should be appointed to lead meetings. This is different to a chairperson, I think, as it seems to be more focused on the emotional climate of the process rather than being wholly procedural – and of course now I come to think about it in these terms I wish I’d thought to ask more about it at the time!

What follows is a copy of my notes from the session, essentially a list of what I felt were the key pieces of advice for a facilitator which came out of it all. I’ve reorganised them slightly and grouped things together for coherence.

Key groundrule = assumption of good faith

Establish a shared vision – what does success look like?

No one should take things too personally!

Meet 1-on-1 with individuals to air issues prior to the meeting, so the focus of the group can be on moving forward

Look to the future, don’t dwell in the past

Allow time for reflection – any process which is supposed to result in something significant needs to be given space to develop

A good facilitator seeks group opinions, doesn’t impose their own views. But, don’t be afraid to go for the bold alternative.

Allow peoples’ reactions and emotions to be validated before addressing them

Different people find different things meaningful, e.g. measurements v stories – consider different styles of articulation.

‘Naming’ can be very powerful, use it to drive action, never negatively.

Facilitator should be, and remain, neutral

6 Steps to improving your facilitation:
1. observe the good and the bad when others are facilitating
2. volunteer to facilitate
3. ask for feedback
4. don’t try to be facilitator and content provider simultaneously
5. practice whenever you can
6. apply patterns of good practice in every interaction

Use the facilitation kit:
– to plan/storyboard
– to debrief/reflect
– in the moment
– for inspiration
– to teach facilitation
– to self-assess skills
– to assist with observation and guerilla facilitation

Top tip for running a tight meeting

Mark timeslots on the agenda and keep to them

Tackle contentious issues offline with individuals beforehand

Plan meetings strategically – allocate the first to discuss concerns then hold a second later to reach agreement once people have had a chance to think things over

Try holding meetings outside your immediate workplace/environment


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