Process to Facilitate the Meeting

Groups tasked with providing different views on a topic or issue, solving problems, coordinating complex work processes, or implementing change initiatives are often ineffective in getting decisions made and procedures in place.
Enter the facilitative meeting. In these types of meetings, the meeting leader (or other skilled person) plays the role of a facilitator—that is, a person who has no decision-making authority within a group but who guides the group to work more efficiently together, create synergy, generate new ideas, and gain consensus and agreement.
The purpose of facilitation is to guide a group to an agreed-upon destination or outcome. As such, facilitators often point participants in the right direction, make suggestions, take steps to enhance the experience for the participants, and offer guidance—but do not do the work for group.
Step-by-Step Problem-Solving Method
Groups are notoriously inefficient at solving problems and making decisions. This phenomenon is often due to the fact that groups and many business professionals are unfamiliar with a formal problem-solving process and the facilitative tools to help a group skillfully navigate this process.
Successful meeting leaders ensure that groups follow an organized procedure involving problem identification and solution generation no matter what goal is to be achieved. Regardless of the purpose of the meeting—for example, strategic planning, long-term planning, succession planning, or general problem solving—consider following the process method listed below.
Step 1: Identify the Desired State and Generate Ideas
Many groups, anxious to jump in and start making decisions, often short-change this step in the process. Problem definition is critical to identifying the desired state and what success looks like when goals and objectives are achieved.
The synergy and differing views derived by working in groups is often greater than one individual working alone at his or her desk. However, each individual in the group brings his or her own views and ideas—so this step in the process can be a windfall in truly assessing and defining the problem if the facilitation process is given the appropriate time to cull this information from the group.
At this stage, the group should focus on being explicit about the language used in defining terms and what they mean to all individuals in the group. Participants should be pushed to provide specific descriptions and examples, as well as to question assumptions and perceptions.
Step 2: Define and Analyze the Problem
Sometimes the problems a group must address are not obvious to all participants. Groups rarely make decisions in an empirical vacuum—rather they must go through the due diligence of gathering the right information to help them make informed decisions. Intelligence involves gathering relevant data, both objective and subjective, that is pertinent to the decision the group must make.
Depending on the timeline of the project and time constraints to get decisions made, the facilitator or meeting leader may try to gather as much information as possible prior to convening a facilitative meeting. Several instruments enable meeting leaders and facilitators to efficiently gather information, including surveys, focus groups, group interviews, and so on. This information may come from internal or external sources such as customer or employee feedback, technical experts, and subject matter experts.
Step 3: List Possible Solutions
Teams often jump to this step in the process. However, effective teams resist that temptation and move systematically through the process.
At this point, it’s time to get all thinking caps on and generate multiple ideas and solutions. When promoting idea generation, successful meeting leaders and facilitators encourage groups to consider all possible options. This means stating the ground rules of not criticizing or discounting any ideas at this point in the process and not settling too quickly on any one option.
All individuals make decisions based on a set of criteria. For groups to succeed in their mission, everyone needs to understand the criteria and agree to weightings regarding the importance of each criterion in making a decision.
Perhaps a group is responsible for identifying at least five vendors with the capabilities to implement a new application in the organization. The mission of the group is to not only identify and create a list of five vendors but make a recommendation regarding which vendor should be awarded a contract. Then, the group defines a list of system requirements and weighs the “need to have” requirements more heavily than others. Summing the requirements scores might help the group to determine which vendor to recommend for the contract.
Step 4: Evaluate and Choose the Best Solution
This stage involves systematically evaluating each potentially viable option against the criteria and choosing the “best” options (that is, the ones that stack up best against the criteria). This is the appropriate point in the process for the group to become critical about the ideas generated.
During this final step in the process, successful meeting leaders and facilitators help the group to clarify discussions, summarize the results of evaluating and narrowing solutions, keep the group on track, and try to help the group reach consensus so that everyone “buys in” to the final decision.
In the vendor-selection example listed previously, perhaps the group determines that the vendor who meets most of the requirements is not the best option if the vendor cannot implement the new application within the given timeframe or if the vendor is twice as expensive as other vendors.