Facilitation and Meeting Design

Design & Facilitation

Over the years, I have learned that when an event is poorly designed, facilitation is extremely challenging, even for a seasoned facilitator like myself. Poor structure allows meetings to be hijacked by people who have the personality, status, or position to force their way—acts that are hard to stop or question in the heat of the moment, even if everyone knows that the meeting is going off the rails and results are no longer achievable. 

Careful design is paramount. A well designed meeting is easy to facilitate, even by novice facilitators. What better way to learn the trade! 

I have facilitated countless meetings, on several continents, for several purposes—all to make the world a better place. The people in the room, whether less than 10 or more than 100, have come from different walks of life, hold different professions and positions, speak different languages, belong to different ethnic groups or tribes, are young, old or in between, declare themselves of any gender and status.

I know how to create an atmosphere in which the common good, the common purpose everyone is pursuing is kept at the center—allowing everyone to listen to the various voices in the room without lifting anyone up as better or more important. Surprising insights come from such a practice and much learning is taking place. 

I believe that at the center of every encounter is the human heart, the one thing that connects us to one another as humans. Recognizing this allows us to join forces and support recommended action with commitment and care. This is, in my view, the only way we can change what has been unacceptable for much too long.

The most important factor in getting any group to produce the results they want from a conversation—whether it’s two, 20, or 200 people—is the care that goes into the design process. Every conversation counts—when even one of them goes off the rails, the damage can be long-lasting and poison future interactions. 

My design process consists of the following questions:

  1. What do you want to accomplish? What outcomes do you want to emerge from the conversation(s)?
  2. What does success look like? How will you know you’ve achieved it?
  3. Who should be involved? 
  4. What are the time constraints? 
  5. What are the space/place constraints?
  6. What activities are needed to achieve the desired outcomes? 
  7. How can you build liveliness into the design? How can we engage the brain, the heart, and the entire body?
  8. How can you make the design relevant, appropriate and appealing to people who have different ways of working? 
  9. What, when, and how might you celebrate?

There is a specific order to the questions, and none can be skipped. I have seen people design meetings addressing only question 6, leaving all the other elements out or up to chance. As Judith E. Glaser, who developed the practice of Conversational Intelligence™ often reminds me, 9 out of 10 conversations miss the mark. When there are high stakes, why would one want to take such a risk?