Meetings don’t run themselves — or at least they shouldn’t. Without a meeting facilitator, meetings are more likely to get off track, run long, and lose sight of their intended purpose.
If you’ve ever used any of these phrases to describe a meeting, chances are it could have benefited from having a facilitator.
“We talk about this every week”
“This isn’t going anywhere”
“I wish more people would speak up”
“What are we talking about again?”
“My topic always gets punted to next week”
“This could have been an email”
In this post, we’ll go deep on the role of a meeting facilitator, offer guidance for how to choose one, and share tips to help any teammate run meetings like a pro.
A meeting facilitator is a designated person in the room assigned to keep things on track and spark more productive discussion during meetings. Having a facilitator can help fuel greater teamwork during meetings by using tools to foster trust, collaboration, and engagement.
A meeting facilitator is different from a meeting sponsor or team leader. They help the group reach a decision point, but do not make any decisions for them. Ideally, the facilitator role should be held by someone who’s seen as a neutral party to help balance power dynamics. For instance, if you’re meeting to brainstorm new ideas for a big launch project, the project lead should be in the room but wouldn’t be the best person to facilitate the discussion because they already have a high stake in the outcome. They might also have biases or preconceived notions about what the outcome should be already.
A meeting facilitator has a few key roles and responsibilities.
They keep the meeting on track — The meeting facilitator is a stickler for the agenda — they may be involved in creating it, but their primary role is to make sure it stays on track. Before the meeting, the facilitator will make sure each agenda topic has an owner and an allotted amount of time. During the meeting, they’ll keep time, set a reasonable pace for discussion, and ensure conversations aren’t going over or getting sidetracked. The goal is to keep people focused on the things that matter — either tabling tangential and side conversations or taking them offline for a follow-up.
Tip: The key to being an effective facilitator is knowing what to say to get folks back on track without distracting or offending. Check out our meeting facilitation cheat sheet for some go-to responses you can use for different challenges.
They set the stage for active participation — The meeting facilitator sets the stage for an engaging meeting. This starts the moment folks enter the room, by promoting a sense of presence and purpose () among attendees. This might look like greeting folks as they arrive, ensuring technology is working well for any remote team members, and stating the goal of the meeting and any rules of engagement upfront so everyone’s aligned.
They promote open discussion — A facilitator is a great conversationalist who actually does very little talking themselves. They ask questions and use tools to get everyone else in the room to open up and get to the crux of what they’re saying. During the meeting, the facilitator will use words and body language to guide discussion — modeling active listening, asking speaker’s questions to clarify points, posing questions to the group or to different individuals in the room to facilitate conversation, and carving out space for everyone to speak.
They lead the group towards decisions — Debate and discussion is great, but at some point it’s easy to start talking in circles. It’s the facilitator’s role to identify when conversation become no longer productive and then lead the group to narrow the conversation and steer towards a decision point.
Tip: Not a notetaker. If possible, your meeting notetaker and facilitator should be two different people. Both roles take a lot of focus, and it can be hard to do both well at the same time.
When choosing your meeting facilitator, you’ll want to pick a teammate who can comfortably guide conversation and effectively keep things on track. It’s important for the facilitator to understand that they’re primarily playing a supportive role — asking questions to engage the whole group and sussing out concerns, without influencing what’s actually being said.
Here are a few traits to look for when choosing your meeting facilitator:
Facilitation is a skill, so having some training or guidelines in place for this meeting role can be useful too.