As they work increasingly in teams, laboratory managers and their staff members spend a considerable part of their working hours in meetings. Given this fact, it is important that this meeting time be as productive as possible. Meeting facilitators help improve meeting productivity. Meeting facilitators are particularly useful when meetings are highly interactive.
What meeting facilitators do
Meetings occur because they are an effective means to share information, set goals, and both analyze problems and develop possible solutions (brainstorming). However, these types of collaborative decision making can be a complex process. Meetings often involve complex interpersonal interactions. There may be disagreements over goals and how to achieve them. Meetings may dissolve into several simultaneous discussions rather than remaining focused. Even with an agenda it can be difficult to keep a meeting moving smoothly on schedule.
Meeting facilitators can play a role in solving or, better yet, preventing these problems. This often begins with the facilitator working with the person presiding over the meeting to prepare an agenda that will assist in accomplishing the goals of the meeting and keeping it focused. Each item on the agenda should have a clear reason for being there and a specific time allotted to discuss it.
During the meeting the meeting facilitator observes and, as needed, directs the discussion – and disruptive individuals – back to the matter at under discussion. This enables the person running to the meeting to remain focused on the agenda and accomplishing the meeting goals rather than getting sidetracked by behavioral issues.
Meeting facilitator skills
Meeting facilitators need to be diplomatic individuals who remain quietly observing most of the time but insert themselves into the meeting to take action as needed. To do this effectively, they should be someone the meeting attendees will respect.
The facilitator should work with the meeting organizer to set the agenda. The topic, opportunity or problem should be clearly defined. Each agenda item should be important and have a clear reason for being included in the agenda.
Facilitators shouldn’t take the meeting over from the meeting organizer. However, during the meeting they may need to invite comments from the meeting participants and encourage them to remain focused on meeting goals, and record and display key comments and conclusions. Despite this last comment, facilitators should not be responsible for taking notes and writing the meeting minutes. Doing so would take their attention from the dynamics of the meeting. In doing this, the vacillator is guiding the pacing of the meeting.
Even large companies seldom need to have people working full-time as facilitators. Meeting facilitators who are full-time employees often have other duties in addition to facilitating meetings. Because meeting facilitators are seldom needed fulltime, companies may wish to bring in consultants as meeting facilitators. Using accomplished retirees as meeting facilitators can solve the respect issue.
When meetings involve individuals from different organizations, they often pose challenges for meeting organizers and meeting facilitators. The attendees are not unified by a single workplace culture and may not have fully bought into the meeting goals. The same is true for volunteers working for membership societies such as the ACS.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.