How to get balanced input during meetings; a role of the chairperson or facilitator.

All meetings, be it as part of a committee or ad-hoc, are convened in an attempt to accomplish something: further the purpose of the committee, coordinate plans and activities, solve a problem, brainstorm new ideas, provide oversight etc.  (If you cannot readily define the purpose of a meeting then don’t expect success.)  And if the meeting has been planned right, the participants are valued and expected to provide input.  Have you noticed though that at many meetings, a discussion becomes a debate with just a few parties, many people become bystanders, and the meeting may even get pulled off purpose.  The role of the chairperson (or facilitator if there is one) is to ensure all meeting members have a fair chance to provide insight and that the meeting stays on track and on time.  It is so much easier to get “buy-in” when people have had their say.

“Unless the affected participants
are part of the plan, they will not support the solution.
It’s slower, but the solution lasts.
Input = Buy-in”  tmaTexas

  1. Make sure the room is adequate and seating is such that all participants are “equal” and can see each other.   Properly sized circular or rectangular tables are best and avoid having some people in chairs on the side of the room or an auditorium type format.  Make sure however, that you sit in a position where all participants can see you so that you can referee.
  2. Ensure that background or any presentation information is available to participants in advance of the meeting with the request that they familiarize themselves and to be prepared to discuss.
  3. At the beginning of the meeting, or meeting item, succinctly define the purpose and objectives, the time period, and your approach to achieve balanced input.
  4. (At the end of the meeting, or meeting item, make sure to quickly summarize key points and observations, the consensus, or lack, and whether or not the objective has been achieved or further work is needed.  This helps set the standard for increased effectiveness of future meetings.)
  5. Create and maintain a positive tone.  For many people it is easy to complain, but while critique is good, too much negativity rarely produces a creative environment.    Recognize fresh thoughts and ideas, and accomplishments.  Try to shape discussion without too much control.  Suggest moving on when discussion becomes redundant, repetitious, or irrelevant.
  6. Discussion format:  In some situations it is beneficial to separate the discussion into questions of fact and clarification to be followed by the discussion.  “Understand the problem before you ‘solve it’”. For example many times one member of the meeting has been asked to develop and present information regarding the meeting topic.  Set the “rules” upfront.  Are questions to be taken during the presentation?  If so, make sure they are questions of fact.  Did you mean this?  Did you analyze this?   After any such presentation, give participants an opportunity to ask clarifying questions.  Make sure to defer any talk that is jumping to the “solution” during the time.
  7. Balancing:  To ensure balanced and fair input from all consider:
    • Go around the table clockwise giving each member a time-limited opportunity to speak,
    • Ask for hands and keep track of queue of speakers,
    • Make sure there is only once conversation going on not multiple,
    • Ensure all have had a chance to speak before allowing a 2nd opportunity to a speaker,
    • Specifically ask for someone’s thoughts when that person has not yet become involved,
    • And be sure to limit back and forth discussions between few participants unless it is moving the discussion further.
  8. Keep discussion on-track.  When discussions drift, acknowledge and express appreciation for  the thoughts:
    • Restate the meeting objective and bring the discussion back in focus,
    • Suggest the off-track discussion be continued offline or as a future agenda item,
    • Recognize that the issue or discussion is beyond the scope of the committee or meeting
  9. At the end of the meeting make sure to summarize, articulate the conclusion and end on a positive point or outlook.  Remember people will be much more happy to come to your meetings again if they feel their time was well spent, they accomplished something, they were valued, and the outlook is positive!