When a team gets it done: facilitation training for advancing your agenda

“It is easy to know that your meetings aren’t being productive, but knowing why is much harder. Learning what an effective meeting looks like, and how to run such a meeting, is such a valuable skill that I didn’t even know I needed.” — facilitation workshop participant


Sophie Rodgers, a May 2020 graduate of Bentley University, is now the school’s Manager of Sustainability. In her role, she is co-leading the Sustainability and Climate Action Strategic Planning Process, chairs the newly formed Green Revolving Fund, and manages the Student Sustainability Leaders, the Office of Sustainability’s academic year interns.

How Sophie became so central to shepherding Bentley toward achieving its sustainability goals has a lot to do with her skills as a facilitator.

Thanks to both in-person and virtual facilitation training from GreenerU, Bentley’s Office of Sustainability has incorporated facilitation techniques into how they run all their meetings, from staff meetings to larger committee meetings — which has resulted in diverse groups on campus being able to navigate decision-making processes while pivoting to virtual meetings during the pandemic.

“The biggest takeaway for me has been creating a feedback culture,” Sophie says. “At the end of every meeting, I ask for feedback to make sure the process continually improves.”

Why good facilitation matters

You know it when you’re in an effective meeting. You’re hearing diverse perspectives, the energy is palpable, and everyone is sharing good information. It feels like you’re getting something done. You’re making decisions together. You’re learning something. Breakthroughs are happening. You leave inspired to take further action.

Don’t these meetings just happen?

Obviously, if you’re reading this article, you know they don’t “just happen.” The hallmarks of these effective meetings are the result of intentional preparation and anticipation on the part of a leader who knows how to effect them. 

While the skills and techniques are many and take practice, we’ve whittled down the three elements of good meeting facilitation:

  1. Preparation. One of the key characteristics of a good meeting is when participants feel as though their time was well spent. Good meeting facilitators prepare meeting goals, materials for participants to review in advance, clear communications about what will take place, and agendas with time allocated for meeting topics. Advance preparation will help keep your meeting on track so you can ensure you can accomplish what you set out to get done.

    Pro tip: types of agenda items can be categorized into information sharing, discussion, ideation, decision-making, or some combination thereof. Harvard Business Review published an excellent article offering suggestions on how to create an effective meeting agenda. 
  2. Participation. During a meeting, a major role of the facilitator is to provide the structure and process for people to engage with each other in productive ways. It is the facilitator’s role to ensure that diverse ideas are generated, that everyone has a chance to provide input, and that any decision making is clear to everyone. Like a good orchestra director, a facilitator can keep an eye on the whole room and ensure balanced dynamics, keep time, and cue individuals when it’s their turn to speak.

    Pro tip: engagement, especially in remote meetings, is a challenge that can be overcome with careful consideration of how to distribute responsibility for next steps. One technique we use often is to (1) ask everyone to list out their ideas or write down their answer to a question individually; then (2) break the group into small teams to discuss their ideas; then (3) ask each team to report out their main points to the full group. HBR posted this great piece on getting people to actually participate in virtual meetings.

  3. Documentation. Meeting documentation is not just about taking minutes for posterity. It’s a way of advancing the discussion and ensuring that you’re accurately capturing discussion points, new ideas, decisions, and proposed action items. You do not have to be responsible for both note taking and facilitation—you can ask for help and have someone else in the room document the outcomes. After any meeting, make sure to follow up with the main outcomes of the meeting, thank people for attending, and, in the body of an email, highlight next steps and who will be doing what by when.

    Pro tip: visual management means using available materials—a whiteboard, a Google doc, a shared jamboard—to allow participants to follow along or even correct the record of what’s happening during the meeting. This is synonymous with “being on the same page,” as you are all literally operating from the same assumptions.
“Training the trainer” means more bang for your buck

While GreenerU provides a whole range of services and support (we are starting to call it the “enchilada”), one of the best-kept secrets of what we do is offer facilitation training. Many institutions find this to be the biggest bang for their buck. It’s somewhere in the “teach me to fish” instead of “give me some fish” analogy.

Even during this strange pandemic time, GreenerU offers remote facilitation training workshops that can scale to different depths and types of meetings. The workshops can be broken up into multiple sessions to reduce Zoom fatigue. They provide a theoretical overview of the psychology of group dynamics, collaborative leadership, and organizational change through effective meetings, giving you practical tools as a facilitator for many different types of meetings. Participants have ample time to practice facilitation through fun, challenging, and interactive activities and receive constructive feedback from the group in a safe environment.

This workshop covers topics such as:

  • Behavior theory as it pertains to meetings
  • The role of a facilitator
  • Modes of engagement in meetings 
  • Facilitation tools and techniques
  • Managing challenging meeting behaviors  
  • Adaptive facilitation 
  • Methods of building group consensus
  • Process approach to facilitation
So, is it worth your time and money?

The short answer is yes.

We’ve gotten loads of positive feedback from previous facilitation training. 

Mary Ellen Mallia, director of environmental sustainability at the University at Albany, hired GreenerU in 2019 to coach the school through a sustainability planning process that included facilitation training. “The people involved not only made a plan; they learned skills that we could use in our professional lives going forward,” she noted. “Your team really helped us out because we wanted to be very involved in the plan.”

“The facilitation training was invaluable,” said Chad Carwein, sustainability manager of East Carolina University, with whom GreenerU worked on a sustainability strategic plan throughout 2018. “The core team of focus area chairs participated and felt like they got a lot of value out of that.”

If your team is looking for fun, interactive, remote, and productive professional development opportunities, consider group facilitation training from GreenerU. Contact us for more information.

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