Don’t you just love meetings? Everyone comes; some talk, some take notes,
everyone leaves…and then? What happened? Most of us just consider meetings a necessary evil – a major waste of time! Meetings are also forum for power. Someone wins – someone loses. Sometimes, we don’t even know WHY we are meeting! There IS a better way!
Being a conductor who must prepare for a rehearsal, I fell into an opportunity that
opened my eyes to a more effective use of time when groups gather to make
decisions, work out conflict, or formulate a plan. Some refer to this style of running
a meeting as Visually Displayed Thinking, Compression Planning, Creative Planning,
or Visual Mapping. But, for me, it is closely aligned to my skill as a conductor,
bringing out the best in each participant and building a sense of unity through the
process. The leader, in this case the facilitator, controls the PROCESS and the group
provides the CONTENT. How great this is! I always hate going to a meeting where
someone shoots off their mouth to get their way and the rest of the group lets it
happen! Or, the group, with no clear directive, uses up the allotted time with no
tangible result. The meeting expands to fill the allotted time, no matter what the
agenda! No wonder we all hate meetings!
Let me offer you a better way, one that coincides with the skills of a conductor.
Equip yourself as a knowledgeable facilitator, or hire an outside facilitator. In some
cases, only an outside facilitator can achieve the desired results. If you have time to
plan the process, do it. If not, hire an expert in process management.
Here’s a definition of terms:
Facilitator – This person plans the meeting, leads the meeting, and remains neutral.
Remaining neutral is central to the process. If the group feels that a facilitator
controls the content, then it will not function effectively. The ratio of planning to
meeting time is like that of a musical rehearsal. Two to three hours of planning for
each hour of the meeting is the norm. This is a minimum requirement if you expect
The facilitator controls the process, the participation of members, and keeps the
group focused and on track. The pace of the meeting is crucial to the creative
planning process. Always stand, always look people in the eye, always listen
carefully to exactly what people are stating, always try to involve each person in the
The facilitator also plans the design for the meeting. Notice I used the term
“design” rather than “agenda.” This implies that you’ve done more than write down
some words on a piece of paper, gathered people, and called it a meeting.
The Project Team – This team may be one already in place. If not, then select a team
that is not completely of one mind. For example, if you are planning a public
musical event, then include a non-musical person in the process. Too many similar
perspectives make a group blind to other tastes or opinions. An “outsider” or non-
expert can sometimes allow the group to experience a paradigm change which
could be most beneficial, not only to that ministry, but maybe to the whole
Another important issue is that of enabling groups of individuals, with all of their
individual perspectives and needs, to think and function as a team. Whether your
facilitation is a one-time project with a team you’ve selected only for this task, or if
you use these principles with an ongoing staff team, getting people to envision
themselves as part of a larger entity is the principle goal. Work for the win/win
situation in which individuals are fulfilled as the group’s success is manifest.
The following points are essential to a successful meeting:
o Always start and end on time! Even plan the meeting for times that imply
punctuality, i.e., 9:02 to 10:32 a.m. Promise to start and end punctually – and do it!
o Seat the group facing the visual support, usually around three sides of a table
with the facilitator at the fourth side. Some facilitators use chart pads. I use
storyboards and various cards of various sizes and colors. With cards, you can have
more flexibility. Print them with your computer and place emphasis on different
items by using different sizes and colors.
o Appoint or seek a volunteer to be a scribe or recorder. Record the actions and
ideas of the group where everyone can see. This helps the group stay on track, and
reminds them of what they have created so far.
o Tell groups not to take notes. Instead, I send summary notes to them within 48
hours. This enables everyone to participate equally (if they aren’t taking notes, then
they can pay attention) and ensures that everyone has the same details in their
o Ideally, the group should be small – 7 to 10 people. This allows for full
participation from each person. If the group must be larger, then allow
opportunities for splitting the group for discussion, brainstorming, problem solving,
and other activities. When the group comes back together, each section reports on
o If someone has a dominant personality or has a known strong bias, don’t seat
them in a dominant place. Choose a corner of the table. It makes a difference,
o Plan a timeline that includes each part of the meeting. Be conservative. Things
take longer than you might think. Allow for a summary or debriefing at the end, or
time to set up the next meeting.
The essence of facilitation is different than that of a meeting.
The essential parts are as follows:
o Clarify – Give sound, clear reasons for the meeting. People want to know WHY
they are there and WHAT they are to do. Also give a time-line for the overall
project. Is it going to take 3 months or just one meeting of two hours? Give the
project a name or title, such as the title of a book. Choose the words carefully; they
will begin to set the focus for the team.
o Planning the Best Choir Retreat Ever
o Building an Awesome Music Ministry
o How to Recruit, Equip and Motivate Members in Ministry
o Define – Prepare a concise statement defining the overall objective(s) of the
team. Be specific. Then define the measurable objectives for the immediate
meeting. Separate the long-term and immediate objectives as well as defining what
will NOT be discussed at this meeting. Make the objectives reasonable for the time
Examples of Deliverable Objectives: (where to focus our energy)
o Identify 10 unique ways to attract new choir members.
o Define 5 concerts that will pack the church.
o Identify and prioritize all the tasks for the Choir Council.
Examples of Off-Limits Items: (where we can waste time)
o Dwelling on past failures
o Discussing all the fine details of each event identified
o Picking on personalities of those not present
Communicate – Tell the group HOW the process will work. They need to know
the total picture and how they are expected to contribute to the end result. This is
most important if each person is expected to contribute.
o First, we will explore all the options for question (topic)#1.
o Next, we will sort and prioritize those options.
o After the group gives weight to the options, we will develop a plan.
o All of these steps satisfy the first objective.
Validate – Determine the common facts about the subject and present them to
the group. How many times has a group spent time debating something that was
unclear from the start? Make the playing field level – give everyone the same data to
begin. This will save enormous amounts of time. This could be called Background
Information or Givens or Common Knowledge Facts.
o List ALL of the known facts about the subject.
o Don’t forget to identify the level of decision making ability this group is
o Agree – Allow time for every participant to review the common facts you just
presented, review the objectives for THIS meeting as well as the list of ways to get
off track. It is just as important to identify what the group is NOT going to do
during this gathering as to identify what they will accomplish. Ask if there are any
changes, additions, or deletions to the common facts. Then ask if they are ready to
proceed with the objectives for today’s meeting. Wait for comment. If you have no
comment, state that you will be moving forward by general consensus. Bringing the
group to continuing consensus is an important guideline. It is much better to work
by general consensus than to vote on issues. Make this your continuing goal.
Allow for this point to sink in. Bringing the group to one focus is crucial to building
the team. Consensus does not mean that everyone always agrees on every point.
Individual power must yield to group needs. The process builds the team. Eye
contact is essential here, as well as a pause for opportunity to comment. Once the
facilitator has determined there is general consensus, state the fact, looking at
everyone. Say that, because of the general consensus, the group can move ahead.
At the end of the session, ask again if there are any exceptions. Hearing none, or
after addressing the comments, ask the group to keep faith with the team by not
speaking contrary to the actions of the group when outside of the group.
Process builds team trust.
o Prioritize -Get right to the first issue to solve or first question to ask. Here’s
where the facilitator earns his or her keep! In planning the meeting, ask first what
the end result should be. (The question to ask yourself in planning: “What do you
want to walk away with at the end of the session?”) Plan the meeting by addressing
the objectives for this meeting, keeping in mind the big picture – the overall goal of
the team. Therefore, keep it manageable by exploring ways to address the issue or
o Set specific, measurable objectives
o Bad – Enlarge the choir
o Good – 5 ways to increase numbers in the choir 15% in 3 months
o Address the objective by having the group answer a question
o Ways to have people clamor to checkout our choir
o Reasons people might be interested in choir
o Possible changes needed to attract people to choir
o Sort the ideas; pick the best 5 (or more),
o Use sticky dots (price stickers) for participants to “vote” for their best choices
o Use markers to “dot” favorite ideas
o Use a matrix (cost vs. difficulty or time vs. importance)
Focus – This could be “FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS.” The facilitator is in charge of
keeping the group on track. If you have written objectives and off-limits items, then
it could be as simple as pointing to those lists when things begin to get out-of-
hand. Address side conversations and irrelevant comments as they occur.
HINT: Purchase small bells and give each member of the team one of them with the
instruction to use the bell if the group begins to violate any of the rules. Most of
the time the group will police itself. Keep the group energized by varying the
o Divide into groups of 3 or 4 people.
o Have each group bring back 3 solutions and present to the team.
o Put a time limit on break-out groups (1 minute per idea expected.)
o After a long period, have everyone stand, stretch, and change places.
Formalize – When finished with a brainstorming and fine-tuning, move the
cards into some kind of order or priority. Figure out a standard of measurement
(cost, time, difficulty, etc.) to judge the ideas. You can buy colored price stickers
and let each person use them to vote for his or her choice.
One sticker for each ten ideas – this forces choices for the BEST ideas, and then the
group’s energy becomes clear to everyone. Bad or radical ideas receive no votes, so
it becomes clear to everyone that they are less valuable ideas. After this process of
sorting the ideas, you should have the makings of a plan.
o Action Plan
o Communication Plan
o Next Steps in the Process
o A Matrix of Options
o A Plan for Reconciliation
o And more
Review – Give time for the group to sit back and look over what they’ve done,
making sure that it all makes sense and is practical. Assign responsibility for any
action items or communications, and schedule the next session. Here is a good
opportunity for each person to take a turn in making a 30 second comment about
what they’ve experienced in the session. This can prove to be most valuable, and
will unite the group as they move on to their next event.
o Follow-Up – Be sure to check on all delegated items before the next session.
Delegation does not mean you can forget about it. It means you don’t have to do it,
so you have time to check on it and assist, if appropriate. Be sure to send out the
meeting notes and follow through with any other commitments from the session.
o Celebrate – When the objectives are successfully met, take time to celebrate.
This adds momentum and gives belief in process for future projects. Remember,
you are a team!
There are multiple benefits from running a meeting in this manner. There must be
a major reward since so much preparation must go into making the process
successful. After all, don’t we want to make the best use of each day God has given
Benefits of running a meeting with neutral facilitation:
o Creates positive team building and bonding
o Builds trust through the consensus process
o Gives the team common ownership in goals
o Provides a safe communication environment (attack ideas, not people)
o The goal-setting process boosts the synergistic characteristics of the team
o Promotes an understanding of contrasting views
o Empowers the team to respond within pre-set parameters
o Gets things done
Types of facilitation projects and results:
o Long-range Planning = Long-term Goals
o Project Team = Action Plan
o Budget Building = A Budget We Buy Into
o Evaluation = Future Planning Resource that We Believe Is Valuable
o Schedule Planning = A Team Calendar
o Conflict Resolution/Problem Solving = Consensus
Running Meetings as a Transformational Process
The leader, in this case the facilitator, controls the PROCESS and the group provides
the CONTENT. Plan the meeting.
Note: Facilitation Design Worksheet downloadable at http://www.hughballou.com
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