A great meeting coordinator can get a group to brainstorm, discuss, and, most importantly, decide upon many things in a short amount of time. The challenge is that many organizations do not have a specialized facilitator to fulfil that position.
As the modern workplace grows more collaborative and digital, it is becoming increasingly necessary for all team members to understand how to conduct efficient meetings.
Here are six facilitation techniques that’ll help you lead the next productivity-boosting meeting with confidence.
1. Start Meetings with a Quick Check-in
Check-ins position everyone in the room to pay attention to the meeting and one another.
During your check-in, ask questions such as –
What’s on everyone’s mind before we get started with the agenda?
What is one thing you intend to accomplish during today’s meeting?
What one word best defines your current state of mind?
Check-ins take only a few minutes and result in substantial benefits. They allow individuals to get to know one another better and bring people’s attention to the room, ensuring that everyone is mentally present for the discussion.
2. Establish Question-based Meeting Agendas that Promote Participation
One of the most crucial aspects of being a facilitator is a neutral status, which entails raising areas of concern or opportunities, preferably in question form. A well-crafted question can help make complex topics more manageable and encourage other members to share their expertise on the subject.
Instead of posting a common agenda like “discuss marketing strategy”, try listing out question-based formats such as – “what major market risks require our attention and how can we best prepare for it?”.
This agenda strategy helps set the meeting tone and help members think of answers beforehand.
3. Delegate Specific Meeting Roles
It is acceptable, even wise, for a facilitator to delegate tasks such as note-taking and time-keeping to others.
Allowing attendees to contribute fosters a sense of collective ownership of the meeting’s success.
Remember to rotate the responsibilities at each meeting so everyone has the opportunity to engage and contribute.
4. Create Opportunities for Engagement
The facilitator should be mindful that certain group members may be less outspoken than others, though their opinions remain just as crucial. The facilitator should establish an environment of equality in which they can participate.
Establishing meeting rules underpinned with inclusivity is of paramount importance. Look to those attending the meeting to help contribute to these understandings so that their shared ownership of the expectations increases the likelihood of adherence to them.
When facilitating discussion, ask simple open-ended inquiries to spark their curiosity and elicit responses. Use questions such as –
What do you think?
What would you do? and
Do you have any other ideas?
Given these questions will be asked without notice, offer people the opportunity to “pass” or nominate for the conversation to “circle back” so that those less forthcoming individuals don’t feel put on the spot.
If time allows, consider separating participants into small groups to encourage quieter team members to participate. Then, bring everyone back to the whole group and ask for highlights of the chat.
5. Review and Combine Ideas for Greater Focus
Once all participants have had the opportunity to respond to the question the meeting is to address, it’s important that those ideas are organized and assessed. Once all participants are on the same page, it’s possible to shape agreed action points.
With all ideas collated, the facilitator can work with participants to –
Review all of the ideas
Identify any ideas that can be grouped together
Vote on the ideas they wish to bring forward to discuss
Involving participants in such a sense-making activity can help them better understand the connection between multiple ideas. It also ensures that the meeting’s time is spent focussed on the more important matters.
Using meeting facilitation tools can be of great help in supporting this process. Such tools can also add value as they transparently capture and report back on the ideas generated by the meeting.
6. Conclude with a Quick Debrief and Plan Follow-ups
Debriefing time should be set aside at the end of the meeting.
Facilitators can improve retention of meeting outcomes by summarising –
The issues covered
Decisions made, and
The tasks and individuals accountable for their delivery
Finally, following the meeting, ensure there is follow-up with participants.
Valuable progress can be achieved at a meeting, but it is meaningless if there is no follow-up to ensure proper execution of the agreed action points.
Meeting facilitation is a valuable transferable skill.
While someone new to the facilitation space may make errors; that’s fine! One doesn’t have to be a master facilitator to save a team hours of wasted time.
Facilitation skills will grow as they are practiced, which is why the most valuable advice to a would-be facilitator is –
4 Collaborative Activities Using GroupMap In The Classroom.
We all love a good classroom quiz competition. The thrill of competing against others in the classroom using tools such as Kahoot or Socrative adds a level of excitement and urgency. But when it comes time for students to come up with and share their own ideas, we need a different tool. After all, you can’t use a hammer to screw a nail.
Classroom brainstorming, for example, requires students to draw on what they know and to see other perspectives. It’s a great opportunity for them to flex their individuality through divergent, collaborative, and creative thinking. Likewise, developing literacy and comprehension skills, self-awareness and agency require reflective practice.
Using graphic organizers helps you scaffold learning, provides some structure for students to organize their thinking – whether it’s reading a text, planning their work or simply being creative.
PROS of using online graphic organizers
Being able to create and reuse lesson plan templates without photocopying – saving paper and time.
Student responses are tracked, moderated, saved, and reportable.
It helps show the relationship between ideas in an organized way.
Can quickly share ideas as groups provide feedback directly on student ideas.
It helps with comprehension, and understanding of meaning and relationships.
Traditionally with paper formats, students would only write enough to “fill the space”.
You need to find the right organizer for the task at hand.
In short, over formatting and regulating a graphic organizer can actually do the reverse of what is intended and limit student independent thinking. At the same time, you still need to have some basic structure to facilitate thinking and discussion.
It makes sense to explore and use a range of context-driven graphic organizers to fit the 21st Century classroom. An online graphic organizer with a tool like GroupMap lets you create a range of graphic organizers so that each student can add their ideas to the template individually or collectively.
We reached out to Ms Jenny Cotham (Masters Education), teacher and community liaison at Winthrop Primary School to share some of the practices she uses both in and out of her classroom. Jenny has used Kahoot and Socrative for creating quizzes along with a myriad of other Edtech tools to enhance her teaching. But when moving to activities beyond Kahoot quizzes, she’s turned to GroupMap.
School Background And Classroom Context
Winthrop Primary is a technology-rich school integrating technology into all curriculum areas. With its 1:1 Device and Bring Your Own Device initiatives, students can participate in class discussions and access learning resources, giving teachers the opportunity to better facilitate class discussion and achieve learning outcomes.
Jenny Cotham is a Primary School Teacher & Community Liaison who teaches middle school students. Her goal is to help teachers design learning opportunities that encourage students to be collaborative, critical thinking and innovative learners.
During the course of the year, Jenny says “ I need to collect and monitor student understanding of learning before, during and after lessons for formative assessment.”
“I want to give each student an opportunity to contribute to a lesson topic and share ideas.” explains Jenny. “Having this done in an organized, scaffolded way would mean saving me time and providing better feedback for each student.”
“I also needed to differentiate and individualize the learning outcome for each student ”She continues. “Outside of the classroom, I wanted a tool that would help gather and organize ideas and feedback from staff meetings, P&C committees, and the School Board so that we have data for decision making.”
Teaching Strategy And Philosophy
Winthrop Primary operates on a Gradual Release of Responsibility instructional framework. Lessons begin by familiarising students with a concept and end with applying understandings and skills independently. GroupMap is used as an online graphic organizer to capture what students think and to facilitate classroom discusssion. It gives each student a voice and keeps them engaged. Teachers can give feedback, facilitate discussion and promote group learning.
Cotham says, “each lesson involves a lot of discussion with students where they can impart and articulate what they understood about the concepts and in turn, learn from each other.” She shares 4 ways she’s used GroupMap as part of her teaching practice and professional life.
1. Graphic Organizers for SMART Goal Setting
Developing a child’s ability to intrinsically set and strive for their own SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) is a valuable life long skill.
Kicking off the term, Cotham asks her students to think about a SMART goal they want to set for themselves. This could range from behaviour to learning strategies to knowledge development.
She asks what kind of challenges they think they might face and what support they needed (from her or others). Finally, she asked them to think about how they would measure their success.
Each student enters their own goals in order to create their own printable copy, as well as a digital copy that can be seen by the teacher. “There’s room for individual input without being biased or influenced by what others have said“ Cotham explains.
Goals could be shared semi-anonymously with the whole group. In other words, students can’t see which goals belong to another student, but the teacher can.
As Cotham states, this also helps to “remove bias and the popularity contest. One of the kids the other day wrote that they could help with another person’s goal in GroupMap. They then realized it wasn’t their friend, but that’s not the point. They were to help anyone in the class.”
This allows them to see common goals and to build peer accountability into the classroom. It gives them the big picture and to feel like they are part of a community.
“Going forward, I know which students need help and what kind of help. I can pair up students as needed. I can also ask them to comment on how they are going, and allows me to give me feedback.” explains Cotham.
2. Graphic Organizers For Classroom Brainstorming
What would happen if? That was the question put to students during Science when they had to brainstorm a list of variables that would impact how fast an alka seltzer tablet dissolves. (Rate of chemical reaction).
The activity was described to the class and the question was put to them. Using GroupMap as their graphic organizer, each student pair would add variables that they thought they could change as part of their experiment. This ranged from the type of liquid to the size of the tablet.
With the answers displayed in front of the class, Cotham and her colleague could easily facilitate group learning.
Watch it in action here.
It’s pretty clear that teaching with technology can significantly enhance your lesson plan, make it more engaging for students when they are part of contributing to the class outcomes.
Best of all, there’s a lot less work for the teacher which is a great time saver. Evidence of learning and understanding can be seen immediately and feedback could be given in real-time. Debunking myths and recognizing thinking was a lot easier without production blocks, students being scared to be called out or having to collect all the ideas individually.
3. Graphic organizers for collaborative, fast staff meetings
As part of their ‘Be The Change Project’, Winthrop school aims to integrate a range of sustainability initiatives as part of the school culture.
The challenge was to bring all the staff onto the same page – and to share their current practices, as well as propose new ones. The statement proposed was:
How can we do that effectively so that everyone sees what is happening in the school, gain visibility into current projects and be inspired to create new ones?
GroupMap was for the teachers to share what they were already doing, as well as brainstorm activities around sustainability initiatives, strategies and tactics for the school. This started from a simple list-making exercise that could then be easily grouped into themes.
Cotham then created a brainstorming chart. On the horizontal axis was Local, National and Global to represent the geographic scope. On the vertical axis was the foci of programs such from pure sustainability to a focus on ATSI indigenous Australians.
Grouped ideas and activities could then be positioned across the chart in order to see where the current focus of the staff’s time, energy and resources were going.
Once all the grouped results were positioned, it was easy to visualize current projects in the school. Workload is reduced by identifying projects that could be worked on collaboratively. Opportunities to integrate projects and reduce workload could then be identified.
One of the initiatives explored was the Gardening Project, which teaches students to grow and harvest their own fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. This helps them understand the food cycle, through to building a sense of community pride as well as getting their hands dirty with nature. They then used this in their own cooking classes and recycle any waste products back to the garden.
A benefit was that all staff instantly see opportunities to collaborate, understand current programs that the school was involved in and then build a sense of school pride.
The outcome, however, was just one benefit. Bringing together a large team of teachers to share their practice is a challenging exercise, let alone getting them to work on the same page. Cotham states “ we are seeing wider school adoption simply because we can use it at our staff meetings as well as the classroom. People get excited to use it and it helps us communicate what is happening a lot easier.”
4. Graphic Organizers For Lesson Planning
Teachers are well versed with the idea of the KWL template. It asks students to share ‘What they know’, ‘What they want to know’, and subsequently What they learned’.
Usually, this is done individually – student by student. This is great but just imagine the power of being able to share the collective wisdom of the group, pair up with research buddies and then reward learning by pointing out interesting facts and learnings.
In this example, Cotham asks students to first share what they already think they know about World War 1. Students are encouraged to “teach” each other based on what they already know. This is done semi-anonymously to avoid reticence.
This is a great way for the teacher to facilitate discussion and give feedback, debunk any myths and to reaffirm current knowledge.
The next step asks them to add ideas about what they would like to learn or find out. This helps to build independent thinking and a sense of inquiry. Giving them more also means they are more engaged in their learning. After all, wouldn’t we all be more interested in something that we were curious about?
Cotham even went a step further to build reflective practice by having students look through the list and pick their top 3 areas of interest. Students could see what other kinds of questions people were asking. Paired research becomes possible because you can group students with common interests together.
It’s heart-warming to see the scope and diversity of questioning that students can come up with when given the opportunity. It creates agency and engagement. Teachers can better focus their time and energy on things that interest the students. They can quickly assess current understanding by harvesting the wisdom of the crowd.
All of these examples show how students move beyond selecting (and sometimes guessing) fixed answers from multiple-choice questions with Apps like Kahoot or Socrative.
Jenny Cotham’s tips for using GroupMap in the classroom
There are so many options to help save you so much time. GroupMap supports a wide range of activities from student work, and classroom ideas to general brainstorming.
Use the partially anonymous feature where you want to promote safety in the classroom. Ideas can be added by students without worrying about what their peers might say. But because you can see who said what and provide feedback to the relevant students.
There are different formats from lists to charts to mind maps. So it’s good to mix up the activities to have a variety of activities.
There’s definitely scope outside of the classroom. Perfect examples include staff input at Teacher Professional development days, PD workshops, and even board meetings.
The lock map feature is really handy to stop students from typing and modifying the map. It helps me get their attention back to the front of the class when I need to give instructions for the next steps.
You are that meeting which just seems to go on forever. People have been talking but there is no sign of a decision being made in the near future. The quiet team members have been watching the more outspoken, and at the end of it all, the manager says that should put a few things down and reconvene. As you leave, you think “That was a bloody waste of time!”
Sounds familiar? You are not alone. While brainstorming remains a key part of meetings, traditional methods are fraught with dysfunction. It’s no wonder that the average office worker spends 61% of their meeting time writing emails or searching for information.
The costs of a bad meeting
With 1/3 of the 11 million meetings held every day considered unproductive by American Workers (Romano & Nunamaker), of which 5% are specifically related to brainstorming online or face to face, that equates to a staggering $1.154Bn in meeting costs.
Closer to home, each meeting you hold is a factor of each person’s salary multiplied by the amount of time spent. Every time you have to “meet again” this simply doubles the cost. While electronic meeting tools and online brainstorming software exist, some still revert to manual processes like sticky notes and butchers’ paper in an attempt to create engagement. Beyond just the material costs and manual work, the time lag and the context shift form part of the hidden costs of ineffective meetings.
The good and bad of group brainstorms
Alex Osborn touted that group brainstorming produces 50% more results than individual brainstorming, grounding them in the following principles.
Initially, no judgement or criticism is allowed
Go first for quantity of ideas
Prioritize the most unusual or original
Combine and refine ideas
However, since the 1950s additional research has demonstrated that the effects of groupthink, reticence, dominance, anchoring and just the basic lack of focus impede on the effectiveness of group brainstorming. Chamorro-Premuzic, in his article “Why Group Brainstorming is a Waste of Time”, adds the issues of social loafing, social anxiety, regression to the mean and production blocking. Despite this, he states the benefit distributed expertise and improving buy-in and subsequent implementation by everyone in the team due to its democratic style. Finally, one of the key issues is the lack of decision making – or where the decision is not well evidenced or hidden in some minute resolution. Given this, we need to add to the best way to brainstorm list.
The potential of online collaboration brainstorming software
Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” wrote in the New York Times that:
“The only exception to group brainstorming’s’ dismal record is electronic brainstorming, where large groups outperform individuals; and the larger the group the better. The protection of the screen mitigates many problems with group work. It’s a place where we can be alone together – and this is precisely what gives it power.”
Online brainstorming can be a way to set the scene, measure engagement, democratize decision making, and allow everyone to contribute equally with results published in real-time. These tools can be integrated into online meeting tools or video conferences to create even better outcomes.
Tips for a great team brainstorming meeting
Here’s a quick mental checklist for a productive, effective team meeting – ready?
We are clear about the objectives and goals.
We have invited the right people to solve the problem.
We have a basic structure to follow through.
We have the logistics (tech, food, room etc) organised.
We know how the meeting will be facilitated.
There are relevant decision points during our meeting.
We have a follow-up point after the meeting.
For those using GroupMap for real-time collaborative online brainstorming, check out our infographic below on getting the best out of your sessions.
Want more ideas to make your next meeting fun, quirky or creative? Join in and contribute to this GroupMap below or check out our infographic.