Tips for Facilitating a Meeting Between Two Groups by Joan Lloyd
I've been asked to facilitate a meeting between two groups who need to get on the same page and I could use your advice. They are going to have to merge services and they aren't happy about it. There are several aggressive people on both sides. There are 12 people all together.
I am a "neutral party" and I have been asked to get these groups to work together to make this new structure work.
Some of my questions are: how do I make the meetings civil? What if someone gets out of line—do I ask him to leave? What if they refuse to work together? I have a decent amount of trust from both sides but not a lot of facilitation experience.
Do you have any advice?
You will need to manage three parts of the meeting: the content (the subjects you talk about); the process (how the meeting is structured); and the group dynamics (how people treat each other). These three components are a lot to juggle all at once but these facilitation tips may help:
- Ask a senior leader to kick off the first session with a clear charter of why the change needs to be made. The leader can set the tone of collaboration and make it clear that they have an opportunity to create their own future, and the status quo isn't an option.
- If possible, meet with all stakeholders in advance, to hear their perspectives but don't take sides. Ask each person to commit to an open, honest discussion and positive outcome.
- Set some ground rules and ask the group to add others as needed. They will help you stay on track, keep order and make the dynamics safe. Some samples are:
- Balanced participation
- Listen to and respect everyone's opinion
- What is said here, stays here, unless otherwise agreed to
- Silence means you agree (No "meetings after the meeting." Get it on the table.)
- Attack issues not people
- Be present—be on time, attend all sessions, no cell phones, PDA's etc.
- Limit side conversations
- Stay focused on the common goal—not personal, vested interests
- Come prepared with a process outline for each meeting. Invite the group to help you with designing the process as you go. If they own it, they will follow it. For example, here are some ideas for how to structure your first meeting:
- Senior leader kickoff—why are we here and what do we have to accomplish?
- Discuss proposed ground rules and modify if needed.
- Lists the advantages of combining forces.
- What would an ideal outcome look like? Discuss and list criteria we need to meet ("Must Have" and "Would Like" lists).
- Identify the barriers/pitfalls we need to overcome in order to reach the desired outcome. (This will provide ideas for future agenda items and meeting formats.)
- Keep a watchful eye on the way the group process and group dynamics are working. Don't get sucked into the content or the group process/dynamics will get away from you.
- Be a friendly task master. They want you to keep things moving so don't let the meeting wander. Use a "parking lot" for issues that can be discussed later. If you don't, the group will feel frustrated because they haven't accomplished anything. If you're not sure (such as if the topic has strayed too far), ask them. They will tell you and self correct.
- Don't tolerate a violation of the groundrules—particularly disrespectful behavior. They are counting on you to do this and will respect you for it. Gentle reminders are usually all that's needed. If someone is continually out of line, talk to him outside the meeting.
- Keep them participating. If someone is doing all the talking, say, "What do the rest of you think?" Or, jump in with a process such as getting them into small work groups and reporting back, or going around the room to weigh in on an issue, or brainstorming solution ideas.
- Don't kick anyone out of the group. It will polarize the participants and become a huge distraction. It may even cause a mutiny.
- Listen to your "gut." If you are feeling something, chances are, they are too. Wait for a few minutes and carefully observe what is going on and then say it out loud, using neutral words. For example, "We have spent the last 15 minutes talking about x. We have only 10 minutes left. How do you want to use the rest of the meeting?"
It probably seems like a lot to think about all at once. The good news is if you engage the group as "co-facilitators" they will help you. It is in their best interest to have productive meetings and a good outcome.