If you want to ensure collaboration and buy-in during strategic planning meetings or when you have a big decision to make, it’s imperative that all stakeholders are able to weigh in and be heard. Facilitating these meetings and driving critical decisions can be challenging with diverse personalities, competing self-interests, internal politics, limited time and other factors.

Over the years as we have facilitated retreats, vision planning and other strategic meetings, we have developed some effective techniques that enhance meeting productivity and overall buy-in. Most importantly, these techniques allow each participant to share new ideas or objections, ask questions and discern plans to move forward, which ultimately leads to more unity in decision making and more willingness to follow through on what was agreed upon.

Consider seven sure-fire facilitation techniques:

  1. Provide the agenda up front so people can think about it and ask questions or do research ahead of the meeting if they feel they need to. Provide any pre-reading, data or summarized discussions from prior meetings, too, so that people come “primed” for the discussion. 
  2. Make it safe to ask questions, share views, and even raise objections in a professional, solutions-oriented manner. “Meeting smack down” cannot be allowed, which means refraining from saying things like, “We’ve tried that,” “I don’t like that,” or “That’s a dumb idea” or other inflammatory comments that stifle or shut down collaboration, innovation, and creativity.
  3. Make it an expected norm to identify and disclose self-interest, which we all have, so that participants are not secretly vying for a specific outcome that may or may not be able to be achieved as you work towards a common goal. It should be okay for all participants or stakeholders to express a view, desire, or bias on a subject. This builds transparency and trust and can also foster a new way of looking at the situation. It also allows the group to try to achieve as much of each other’s self-interest as possible, because you know what each other truly wants. And, when you can’t help each other get the individual wants and needs, you will be able to discuss that disappointment honestly to see if there are any other concessions to make to minimize the sting.
  4. Ask your “Big Dogs” to go last when sharing their view, opinion or desires. We say that the Big Dog is someone in a position of power because of their role or their title, or someone with a strong or dominant personality (or both!). For example, the Managing Partner, a “named” partner, a large shareholder, big business developer or a key service line or industry leader are often suspect. And, those with a more extroverted, dominant personality who prefers talking through problems and quickly making decisions are also suspect as a “Big Dog.”  When your Big Dogs speak first, you risk others deferring to them and not ever getting their true perspective, questions or concerns. This can lead to a false sense of buy-in and a lot of follow up conversations privately or in subsequent meetings. If you are the facilitator of a meeting with a Big Dog (or more) that may impact the input and discussion from others, consider meeting those people in advance of the meeting and request that they speak last so you can ensure others are heard first and not influenced or squelched, even inadvertently, by the Big Dog. Consider asking them to truly hold their tongue, which will be hard for them, so that we can hear the full views of the room.
  5. Expect those who are typically quieter or more Introverted personality to speak up. This is especially important for those in a leader role, such as a partner, or those who have a stake in the decision or direction – like important future leaders. Providing the agenda and any pre-reading in advance will help. Let all participants know that they will be expected to input during the meeting and “preferring not to say” is not allowed. Even acknowledging that you agree or that you can support X, or that you’re worried or have concerns, helps the other participants and meeting facilitator know where you stand. When you’re the facilitator and need to ensure everyone has an opportunity to weigh in, go around the room asking each person to input, letting the participants know that the “Big Dogs” will go last.
  6. Instill a policy of no “meetings after the meeting.”  When members hold back and only openly share their thoughts with a select group of co-workers after the meeting, it creates churn and deteriorates trust – and it perpetuates a sense of false harmony because everyone leaves the meetings thinking you agreed. Your goal is to have open communication and leverage the diverse views and strengths of each team member. When teams function well, they make decisions faster, can execute swiftly and innovate!
  7. Write a recap! For those that know me – and all of us at ConvergenceCoaching – this may sound like a broken record, but a written recap is THE best tool to confirm understanding of what was decided in the meeting (preventing Ground Hog’s Day in the next meeting!) and who is doing what, by when to ensure progress.

Do you identify as a Big Dog that should try to be quieter in meetings and let others speak first? Or are you on the quieter side and could input more so others know where you stand? Or are you a facilitator and need to balance being efficient while ensuring all inputs are heard as you drive important decisions and agree on next steps? Wherever you find yourself, pick one thing you can do to ensure that honest dialogue happens in meetings and when faced with critical decisions.

What would you add to this facilitation list so that all participants’ views and concerns are heard so the result is true collaboration and buy in? We’d love to learn from you!