By Natalie Berkiw-Scenna, PMP
Meetings are a reality of every industry and certainly for every project. A successfully facilitated meeting can add significant value to your meeting participants, your projects, and your organization.
Leading and facilitating projects meetings that are productive and high-functioning doesn’t need to be challenging. In fact, by leveraging several key behaviors found in the most effective professional meeting facilitators, you can consistently hold project meetings that are more engaging, gain greater collaboration, and allow you to achieve your project goals and objectives.
Consider applying these seven, easy meeting facilitation behaviors to all your future meetings going forward.
1) Set Expectations Upfront and Ask for Active Participation
Any great meeting facilitator starts the meeting by setting clear expectations with the group. You can do this in advance of the meeting by email and again when the meeting begins. This important behavior immediately sets the tone for the upcoming discussion. After providing a short list of expectations, ask your project team for agreement and invite them to offer any additional expectations that they would like to include.
Here is an initial list of meeting expectations that you can start from. I invite you to edit these and make them your own. Remember that every project meeting and its meeting participants are unique, and the expectations you select should always reflect this.
- I’m looking for your active participation today and invite you to ask any questions, provide your valuable perspectives, and collaborate.
- We will be mindful of everyone’s time and ensure that we end the meeting on time today.
- Please be respectful of each other by not talking over each other and respecting different thoughts and opinions.
- Be present and engaged in the discussion, and minimize other distractions (i.e., laptops, cell phones, etc.)
- This meeting is a safe, respectful environment to express your opinions and ideas. There are NO bad ideas.
- Ask questions while they are still fresh in your mind.
2) Stay Neutral
Remember that a professional meeting facilitator is always there as a neutral party and never exerts their own individual opinion around the agenda topics being discussed. Instead, the facilitator draws the various ideas, opinions and expertise from others in the room and uses that valuable information to support the discussion. When facilitating your project meetings, apply this important behavior of remaining neutral. As project managers, we’re there to leverage the expertise of our team to move our initiatives forward successfully.
However, if you find yourself in the position of being one of the subject matter experts in the room on any of the discussion topics, it may become challenging to remain neutral. One way to mitigate this is to consider reaching out to a colleague to facilitate the meeting on your behalf (or even just the specific meeting agenda topic) so that you have the opportunity to engage to the full extent as a subject matter expert. Even the best meeting facilitators fully understand when they need to bring others to the table to allow them to actively participate.
3) Listen Actively and Ask Clarifying Questions
Active listening is a key behavior of any great meeting facilitator. Your role when leading your project meetings is to listen carefully to each of your meeting participants with the goal of truly understanding the key messages they are offering. We need to be mindful of not formulating a response in our minds before they have completed providing their input, or else we risk losing the ability to actively listen.
Another behavior that is part of active listening, is asking questions to gain greater clarity. Clarifying questions can include: Could you tell me more about that? Can you be more specific? The goal is to understand by drawing additional information from your project team. And if you find you have some members of your team that are more long-winded and have greater challenges narrowing down their message to a key point, you can reiterate what you heard in your own words more succinctly and ask them to validate what you took away from their input.
4) Document the Discussion Accurately
When leading your project meetings, it’s important that you track all the key discussion points, decisions made, risks identified, action items for follow up, and next steps. When capturing input from meeting participants, a professional meeting facilitator always ensures that the ideas are recorded in the spirit of which they were intended. This means not adding your own personal bias to what was said and changing the meaning of what was articulated. Remember this: it’s always okay to paraphrase and capture the information in your own words but ensure the meaning of the key messages haven’t changed. You can accomplish this by simply asking your participants: Did I capture this as you intended? Did I articulate this correctly?
5) Monitor the Time or Assign a Timekeeper
A great meeting facilitator will effectively manage the time during a meeting. Being respectful of everyone’s time is important and some things you can do include starting the meeting on time, allocating times to your agenda items, monitoring the amount of time each discussion is taking, assigning someone in the room to act as a timekeeper, providing a time check 5 to 10 minutes before the meeting is over, and wrapping up the discussion to consistently end on time. It’s up to you as the project lead to manage and facilitate your meetings so that they are productive and make the best use of the time available.
6) Monitor Your Own Body Language
When leading your project meetings, consider the messages you might be sending your team through your facial expressions and body language. As the facilitator of the discussion, pay special attention to this especially in times when conversations become challenging. Open body language will always promote greater collaboration with your team. Here are some tips and considerations to maintain warm and open body language during your meetings.
- Always try to face the group and avoid turning your back to them as much as possible. Even if you are writing on the wall, angle yourself to still easily see your team.
- Maintain friendly eye contact. Often, a warm glance in someone’s direction that might be less engaged can help them feel more comfortable to speak up.
- Never stand with your arms crossed. This may be unintentionally perceived as annoyance, disapproval, or disagreement.
- Keep facial expressions neutral when your own negative emotions surface. Always be aware of your own feelings and maintain a cool, calm exterior.
- Minimize any multi-tasking and stay present. This includes checking your own emails or looking at your phone. You might be giving the impression that you’re not paying attention and have more important things to do.
7) Engage Everyone in the Meeting
Meeting facilitation is all about ensuring you have active engagement from all your project team. Naturally, some members of your project will have more to contribute than others for specific agenda items but your role as a facilitator is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to feel heard, understood and valued. If any of your participants continue to remain quiet during the discussion, you can say, “I want to make sure that I hear everyone’s perspective today,” and then, call on those that haven’t yet contributed to ask if there is anything missed from their perspective. Some project team members may only feel comfortable contributing to a topic when asked. A professional meeting facilitator knows to never assume that everyone will jump into the discussion on their own to add their insights. Apply this important behavior to draw insights and input from everyone in the meeting to capture their valuable experience and expertise.
Again, a successfully facilitated meeting can add significant value to your meeting participants, your projects, and your organization. Consider leveraging these key professional facilitator behaviors to consistently hold productive project meetings and effectively engage your project teams going forward.
Want to learn more? Consider applying all meeting best practices to your projects. There are many actionable steps that you can do to consistently lead high-functioning, effective meetings. Grab a copy of the book, Unleash Your Meeting Potential™, or enroll in the online course and learn how to lead engaging, productive meetings to move all your initiatives forward successfully. You can find this resource at www.NatalieScenna.com/learn or through your favorite book retailer worldwide.
Natalie Berkiw-Scenna, PMP
Consultant and Trainer, International Institute for Learning
With well over 20 exciting years of project management experience, Natalie Berkiw-Scenna brings her passion and guidance to support other project managers to grow their careers through mentorship, coaching and education.
She brings her wealth of knowledge and expertise from her PMP and Lean designations, and years of leading complex, strategic projects. Her book, Unleash Your Meeting Potential™, can be found in retailers around the world. She also launched this material as an online course after teaching this valuable content to several MBA programs and at various educational events and symposiums including IIL’s 2021 International Project Management Day.
Natalie has international project experience in both Canada and the United States, and has worked primarily in the health care and non-profit sectors. She currently provides her expertise to Beaumont Health in Michigan. And in her spare time, she focuses on training and coaching others to build their confidence and credibility to take their careers to the next level.
Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.