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End Meeting Insanity! Learn to Facilitate

What is the biggest time-waster in your job? If you said “unproductive meetings,” then you are not alone! 99% of the people I ask say the same thing. Unproductive meetings, both virtual and in-person, take a big slice of time out of our days; that missing slice often leaves us less time to do value-producing […]

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October 05, 2021

What is the biggest time-waster in your job? If you said “unproductive meetings,” then you are not alone! 99% of the people I ask say the same thing. Unproductive meetings, both virtual and in-person, take a big slice of time out of our days; that missing slice often leaves us less time to do value-producing work.

The top symptoms of a bad meeting include:

It’s time to end the meeting insanity! The number one thing that changes lousy meetings into valuable ones is skilled facilitation. Most of us have experience leading, running, driving, and/or scheduling meetings. Yet few truly know how to facilitate a meeting. A skilled facilitator is the secret sauce to ending unproductive meetings.

A facilitator ensures meetings have the right people, agenda, and purpose. They help groups work collaboratively and lead valuable conversations. They help a team reach consensus on important and often complex decisions. A facilitator reads the room, listening and observing participants’ interactions. When they recognize any of the bad meeting symptoms, they artfully intervene to keep the discussion on point, productive, and inclusive.  A facilitator ensures any follow-up items and key takeaways are communicated after the meeting to the participants as well as other interested parties.

When someone is leading a meeting instead of facilitating it, that person typically has a particular role within the group discussions. This introduces a bias before the conversation even begins. A meeting leader will sway the conversation and decisions to match their perspective. When this happens, there is a major missed opportunity to hear diverse perspectives and ideas, collaborate on those ideas, and come up with something truly innovative and effective.

A facilitator, on the other hand, remains neutral. Facilitators do not take sides, nor do they have a vested interest in the outcome. Instead, the facilitator is focused on ensuring the conversation is productive. They use various techniques to ensure engagement that produces many ideas and uses facilitation tools to bring the team to consensus on the best decisions.

Success in an Agile organization hinges on the interactions between people: the people in the delivery team, as well as the collaboration with and between relevant stakeholders. The Scrum events, including sprint planning, daily Scrum, retrospective, and sprint review, provide a lightweight framework that builds in short, critical feedback loops. These events take time, so they better be useful. I’ve spent way too many hours of my life in worthless retrospectives and sprint reviews… some of which I was leading! I wish I had learned how to be a true facilitator years ago. Fortunately, facilitation is a skill anyone can learn. There are numerous books and websites devoted to facilitation techniques. The only downside is that these materials don’t give you a chance to practice. Becoming a good facilitator is more than just reading about it, you have to practice. The more you do it, the better you will become.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take ICAgile’s Agile Team Facilitator course (ICP-ATF). It was life-changing. I learned what true facilitation was, learned practical concrete facilitation techniques and practices, and had numerous opportunities to practice facilitating. As an Agile trainer, after that course, I knew I wanted to teach it to others.

NextUp’s Agile Team Facilitation class teaches students the ins and outs of virtual and live facilitation and gives them opportunities to practice, practice, practice! All while seeing facilitation in action by two expert instructors.

Following training, you will be a significantly better facilitator. You will have the tools needed to end unproductive meetings and replace them with engaging, dynamic conversations that produce results. This class is critical for Scrum Masters and those pursuing Agile coaching. It is also beneficial to anyone who is currently facilitating meetings within their organization, regardless of the type of work you do or the processes you follow. Learn more about Agile Team Facilitation (ICP-ATF) training.

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