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Crucial Tip for Leading Better Meetings

Here’s a useful tip for you the next time you find yourself standing in front of a group of people and about to facilitate a meeting of any kind.

Before you begin, ask people to give you permission to facilitate.
This may sound like a complete waste of time, especially if you’ve been brought in by the powers-that-be to facilitate the meeting, but it’s not. It’s essential. Here’s why:

If your meeting is anything like the other 11 million meetings being held each day in corporate America, chances are good that there will be a time during your gathering when at least one person — bored, cranky, distracted, or angry that they weren’t asked to facilitate, will do something (consciously or unconsciously) to derail the session.

This something can take many forms — everything from incessantly checking email under the table… to returning late from breaks… to ranting on any number of topics that have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand — moments that will require a skillful and well-timed response from the facilitator.

If you haven’t bothered to ask for permission to facilitate, people will resist (or ignore) your spontaneous interventions every step of the way. And if they don’t resist you every step of the way, they will silently retreat into their own private Idaho, perceiving you, in their fevered mind, as an invasive, disempowering, or egomaniacal facilitator.

Bottom line, you will lose them.

And, if the people you lose should happen to be “tribal chieftains” of any one of the many feudal kingdoms represented in the room that day, you will lose a bunch of other people, as well. Their minions.

This is not the outcome you want — an outcome that will lead you to triangulating to third parties or wishing you had gone into your father’s dry cleaning business.

The way out of this mess? Simple.

Within the first five minutes of your meeting, after establishing a few simple ground rules, let everyone know that you need their permission to play your facilitator role — that there may be some times, during the meeting, when you may have to ask someone to hold a thought or shift their behavior in some way … and that unless you have their permission to do so, they will likely end up resenting you or feeling mistreated when, in fact, all you are trying to do is ensure that the meeting is a productive one.

Invariably, meeting participants will gladly give their permission for you to facilitate, even if they chuckle, under their breath, while doing so. And if they just sit there, silently, after your request — bumps on an analog — all you need to do is ask them to give you some kind of visible indication that they agree — either by standing up or giving you the “thumbs up”.

This simple act of people visibly giving you permission to facilitate is often the difference between success and failure — especially when, later in the meeting, someone starts acting out or marching to a drummer from another planet.

Armed with the permission they gave you at the beginning of the meeting, all you need to do is reinforce the ground rule that’s been forgotten and remind them that all you’re doing is playing the role they gave you permission to play in the first place.

Works like a charm every time.

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  • Mitchell Ditkoff Mitch Ditkoff is the co-founder and President of Idea Champions, a highly acclaimed management consulting and training company, headquartered in Woodstock, NY. He specializes in helping forward thinking organizations go beyond business as usual and establish dynamic, sustainable, collaborative cultures of innovation. Educated at Lafayette College and Brown University, Mitch has worked with a wide ... more

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