According to Leadership Strategies Inc. “a facilitated session is a highly structured meeting in which the meeting leader (the facilitator) guides the participants through a series of pre-defined steps to arrive at a result that is created, understood, and accepted by all participants.” Roles that a facilitator may serve include: “guide, motivator, bridge builder, clairvoyant, peacemaker, taskmaster, praiser, active listener.” Additional roles that may be filled by the facilitator or others include: “planning sponsor, project manager, methodologist, recorder, documentor, timekeeper, participant, and observer.” According to IAF, some of the most important tasks a facilitator accomplishes are:
- Helping the participants learn how to work together
- Balancing process with content
- Making sure everyone has an equal voice
Why do meetings need facilitators? A reason of great concern today is that “time is money.” The next time you are seated in a meeting, look around you and estimate the average hourly salary of the attendees. Multiply this figure times the number of attendees and the duration of the meeting. Then, factor in additional costs as appropriate for refreshments, plus travel and meeting space costs for offsite sessions. When you add it all up, it usually represents a significant financial investment. According to GroupSystems, U.S. businesses:
- Spend more than $30 billion annually on meetings
- Have managers who spend nearly 80% of their time in meetings
- Hold 15 million meetings per day
- Incur business trip costs averaging $1,400 in hard costs and more than $3,000 in total costs including personnel time
- Rate at least 40% of meetings as unproductive
- Estimate that meetings are responsible for $37 billion in productivity losses
Few of us like to spend time in unproductive gatherings that are poorly planned, poorly focused, and poorly managed. Eric Matson identifies “The Seven Deadly Sins of Meetings” as:
- People don't take meetings seriously. They arrive late, leave early, and spend most of their time doodling.
- Meetings are too long. They should accomplish twice as much in half the time.
- People wander off the topic. Participants spend more time digressing than discussing.
- Nothing happens once the meeting ends. People don't convert decisions into action.
- People don't tell the truth. There's plenty of conversation, but not much candor.
- Meetings are always missing important information, so they postpone critical decisions.
- Meetings never get better. People make the same mistakes.
A facilitator cannot solve all of these issues, and may not be required for every meeting, but virtually every meeting could be improved by using basic facilitation skills. If you would like to learn more about basic skills, an excellent primer on facilitation may be found in the Good Enough to Share section.