We are pleased to offer this toolbox as a hub for resources on meeting facilitation. We invite you to dig in and consider what is useful for you.

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SURE Principles


People who attend a lot of meetings often have good ideas for planning and running the meetings they attend. However, they usually don’t feel like the meetings they “suffer through” are respectful of their input or their time. Our meetings could improve dramatically if we structured ways for people to share their meeting ideas with us, and have more active roles in the meetings they attend. When asking their input on an agenda:

  • Do it enough in advance that input can get used
  • Approach individuals or small groups (not mega email lists)
  • Ask individuals what they may want to suggest for the meeting in terms of both agenda and process

When leading a meeting, respect people’s time: start on time, end on time; provide enough time for each agenda item and time in which any one person (or subset of people) can talk about something that is important to them. When plans and “next steps” are on the table, make sure that people don’t get over-burdened with work born of someone else’s bright idea unless that is clearly in the realm of their responsibility, and they had some voice in how to proceed.



Try to make meetings useful for everyone who is there. Review the meeting agenda and the “invitee” list with someone else. Check that the invitees would find the content of the meeting immediately meaningful to them. Ask, “How would they use this information? What do they bring to this discussion? How does it affect them?” If you don’t see a connection, you might ask the invitee what they think and give them an option to be there or not for that item.

Consider Add-On Meetings (held just before or after the larger meeting) with a subset of people for whom some additional content is relevant. This allows the others to use that time in other ways and to focus more on what does indeed matter to them. Eventually, you can create a new meeting culture where people check their own need to be present and voice it.



There are many ways in which people’s safety can be compromised at meetings. One of the most common ways is that their input is invited, but then gets ignored or contradicted publicly. Another way is that they are put on the spot. Here are three ideas for keeping people safe enough to join in meetings willingly and productively:

  • Clarify how people’s input will be used and always acknowledge their contributions
  • Talk with individuals about the aspects of the draft agenda that pertain more to them and forewarn them if they will be asked to present or comment at any point
  • Check with someone privately before sharing something about them or their work in the large group.



Meeting leaders often bemoan people’s lack of participation or input. One cause of this (among many!) is that people have not been involved in the issues of the meeting beforehand and are coming into it feeling like “outsiders” or under-valued. Consider these options:

  • Give people a short piece of pre-meeting reading (personally sent and accessibly written) telling them what kind of input or decisions will be sought during the meeting
  • Try using more partner and/or small group interactions in your meetings so more people can discuss a given topic
  • Design ways to discuss some agenda items that engage people’s different learning preferences by finding alternatives to holding yet another large group, open discussion where most of the interaction is verbal and only a few people get to talk.


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Participatory Decision-Making

(Image used with permission from Sam Kaner)

The Diamond describes the process a group goes through to solve a difficult problem. The process is neither smooth nor sequential. It is often characterized by confusion and misunderstanding. Most people find it hard to tolerate the ambiguity and the conflict that are inherent when people don’t have shared frames of reference. Yet a group’s most significant breakthroughs are often preceded by a period of struggle.
By legitimizing the awkward, uncomfortable, yet entirely normal dynamics of diversity, the Diamond of Participatory Decision-Making helps facilitators give their groups more meaningful support during difficult times.

Group members and the group itself may pass through these zones many times in one meeting (around different agenda items) or might require many meetings to pass through them once (around a complex agenda item). Consider them “zones of group decision-making.” The “groan zone” is not necessarily a bad place. It is often the place where growth happens – for individuals and for groups. Some have suggested we rename it the “growth” zone.


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Decision-Making Models

Here is a continuum of possibilities for decision-making. Any of them can be effective decision-making methods if defined beforehand.


  • One person holds the final voice on a decision. This person may consult with others and may research the topic.
  • However, he/she is making the decision alone in the end.


  • A team of two or more people makes a final decision.
  • These people may volunteer, or be assigned, to do so.


  • Everyone affected by the decision is invited to cast a vote.
  • Before the vote is cast, everyone agrees what percent-in- favor is required for the decision to pass (e.g., over 1/2 in favor, or at least 2/3 in favor).


  • We seek full agreement from the whole group.
  • If that is not achieved after a certain amount of time, the group has agreed to use one of the other models as a fall back.


  • Dialogue and research continue until all are sufficiently in agreement with the decision.
  • This means that everyone is either fully in favor of the decision OR agrees with it enough not to oppose it.


  • Dialogue and research continue until all are FULLY in agreement with the decision.
  • To reach this kind of consensus, a group must revise a proposal or decision until everyone voices their active support.


An Example

If the definitions of these models still seem a bit academic, you may want to think of the family vacation. On the far-left end of the continuum, Grandpa alone decides where the family will go; on the far right of the continuum, everyone has a voice in the final decision (including the puppy), and no tickets are purchased until everyone says they are ready to pack their bag!


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Facilitating Productive Dialogue

By Jane Vella

A dialogue (“words between” or “through words”) is an exchange of ideas and opinions, between two or more people. During the exchange, participants clarify understandings, make discoveries, and ask questions.

The opposite of dialogue is monologue (“alone, single, or one word”) – what Paulo Freire called the “banking approach” to learning. Too often facilitators of meetings rely too much on a monologue where they or a designated person have the single word. They cover material by telling rather than exploring.

Freire based his dialogic methods on the need for people to become full participants in their own experience of learning events, which meetings often are. It encompasses problem-posing, building of a critical consciousness, questioning the content and even the roles of facilitator/learner or leader/meeting member (i.e., learners/meeting members must be more than passive recipients of ideas). It suggests a much higher return when education and meetings are changed from a passive process to one of empowerment and engagement.

By virtue of life experience, each stakeholder has something to contribute to the exploration of a given content/topic area. In such a dialogue approach, the meeting members are both a teacher/facilitator and a learner/meeting member. Dialogue can be encouraged in a collaborative meeting by using open questions; arranging critical work to be done in small groups or pairs; presenting new information and inviting participants to examine it critically to add to it, or change it based on their experiences and perspectives.

Notice how this workshop is built on structured dialogue. Structure saves people from getting lost in the unconscious.


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Challenging Scenarios

“Holding My Line”

People’s comments become predictable. Dominant personalities may focus on their pet ideas and the group’s contributions can be lost. Some folks “take sides” in a way that keeps the group stuck in old patterns or old issues.


  • Before / Preparation
    • Prepare helpful information to ground and open up the conversation
    • Plan in advance
    • Plan ways to minimize this by how you set up process i.e. small group work before large group
    • Meet with person privately before the meeting to discuss
    • Prepare 1-pagers with multiple viewpoints or scenarios
    • Consider what the best decision-making process should be
  • During / Facilitation
    • Mix groups
    • Use 2×2 approach to idea sharing
    • Brainstorm for new ideas, with clear guideline about not recycling old/familiar ones
    • Use stacking tool
    • Record all views (not only loud ones)
    • Invite all voices using “2 cents” tool or talking circle
    • Split large group into sub-groups for discussion
    • Split the dominant group into two and ask to defend opposing view
    • Name the problem and ask for solutions
    • Use individual check ins
    • Be clear about decisions and agreement, e.g. check and record


“The Captain-less Boat”

Divergent thinking goes on indefinitely without any clear direction. Everyone seems to love to put out their ideas but there isn’t a lot of action to move forward. The group may continue to run around in circles without ever moving towards closure.


  • Before / Preparation
    • Make the decision-making process clear before you start, i.e. how much time you will take on this, what % makes a decision, etc.
    • Be prepared with directive and leading questions, linked to achievements
    • Talk to someone in advance of the meeting to encourage them to be “captain”, e.g. “You have important skills to help us… What would it take for you to consider leading this initiative?”
  • During / Facilitation
    • Take ownership and become “the captain”
    • Help people focus with clear invitations to engage with the agenda item
    • Redirect and/or reframe
    • Active listening so you can summarize divergent ideas and thinking
    • Use affinity grouping tool
    • Use nominal group technique
    • Encourage convergence and consensus-building techniques
    • Use guiding and digging deeper questions



This team zips along toward decision-making because they work well together and like to make good progress. They tend to rush to the decisions. They sometimes assume they understand each other when a bit more exploration would yield better results in the end.


  • Before / Preparation
    • Break task down into steps, and work through one step at a time
    • Prepare a thoughtful process
    • Plan to provide necessary ratio beforehand that will influence the decision
  • During / Facilitation
    • Use some variation of the “2 cents” technique to tease out specific points
    • Make space for all voices to be heard, including pausing and sitting in silence for solo thought and reflections
    • Before a decision is to be made invite solo time for personal reflection and journaling—especially important for larger decisions
    • Suggest problems that may arise from the solution to see if they have thought this through or to problem solve in advance
    • Ask guiding questions, e.g. What else can you say about that? What do people think about ___’s idea? What are the potential negatives of this decision?
    • Ask for explanation of logic, assumptions, and/or particular terms and see if everyone understands it the same way
    • Explore a topic/concern/proposal even if everyone agrees, to ensure a consensus decision


“The Squelch”

Divergent thinking doesn’t happen because not everyone’s true viewpoint gets invited or offered. People feel their contributions are undervalued, or won’t get used, so they don’t offer them.


  • Before / Preparation
    • Set up an anonymous process for giving feedback in advance of the meeting, e.g. notes, surveys
    • Plan to use tools and techniques for inviting in and hearing all voices, e.g. 2 cents worth, talking circle, affinity grouping
    • Plan to use small group discussions and/or sub-group brainstorming
  • During / Facilitation
    • Respect and affirm all voices
    • Emphasize how important a person’s input is
    • Suggest hearing from other groups, e.g., “Why don’t we hear from some other voices on this issue?” “Let’s hear from some people who are new to the organization (or have a long history at this organization)?”
  • After / Follow-Up
    • Reach out to the quiet ones as part of the “follow-up” (check in with them on what was said, decided, heard, etc.)



There is a gap in the conversation after a process invitation. The directions may be unclear or nobody wants to speak first. There may be an uncomfortable truth that hasn’t been spoken. Some people may be distracted by other things in an online setting.


  • Before / Preparation
    • Decide how long you will pause after instructions – and plan on using a timer to keep track.
    • Be clear with your activity instructions and practice them in advance with a colleague.
    • Invite 2 guest speakers to have a conversation about a topic – this encourages dialogue among the group
    • Check with colleagues or participants about any power dynamics or situations at work that might impede dialogue.
    • Keep a few general open-ended questions in your back pocket if participants aren’t motivated by your original request.
  • During / Facilitation
    • Explain that you are offering the opportunity of silence: to give people time to think, to consider content, ideas, or a plan that was just offered
    • Invite the option of dialogue in the chat box
    • Ask “what questions do you have? Or what remains unclear?” before inviting feedback/responses to what has been named in case people are confused by the activity or request.
    • Ask the same question in a different, more direct and simple way or reword to get at an easier response request.
    • Invite thematic virtual breakout rooms to continue talking about pressing issues connected to the learning, work or meeting.
    • Offer your own curiosity about the lack of response, e.g. “I’m wondering what is missing here – is there another question that might help us move forward?”
  • After / Follow-Up
    • Invite teams to connect in a small meeting between your sessions to help answer questions and resolve concerns
    • Check in with the silent one to ensure they offered what they wanted to
    • Check in with the silent one to find out what you can do differently next time to ensure their voice is heard
    • Send the important question you asked during the meeting with the input received, and invite additional ideas before finalizing
    • Send the decision made to the group, and ask for any ‘second thoughts’ before moving on the decision


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Being a Proactive Meeting Participant

Below are four questions you can ask (nicely!) to transform the quality of your contribution to meetings.


1. Why are you bringing me in for this meeting?

People often EXPAND meeting invite lists unnecessarily. Sometimes for that buzzy prize we call “buy in”. Sometimes, just to be sure they are not excluding someone. But, the best meetings are the ones where the invitees have an important stake in the topic. What’s an important stake? Your input is required. You will need to make the decision, and therefore need to hear the perspectives of the group. You will be required to take action on the outcome of the meeting.

This question is not just to get yourself out of the meeting. It is to clarify what your stake in it is. So, when you are invited and really don’t know what your stake is in the topic at hand, pick up the phone and ask the meeting owner! He/she should be able to clarify it for you, and if not, begging off saves your time and everyone else’s.

“Hi Mike, this meeting for Tuesday just showed up on my calendar. I am not really clear about why I am being invited. Can you tell me why you are bringing me in? Is there something specific you will want from me on these topics?”


2. Which agenda items will you want my input on?

Sometimes, meeting agendas have a host of topics. Perhaps topics 1 and 2 are relevant for everyone, but the other topics are not. If that is the situation, you can suggest joining for the relevant segments. That might encourage the meeting owner to arrange the agenda to accommodate the relevant “guests,” or even breaking it into two shorter meetings for different groups.

“Hi Susan. There are four topics on the agenda. I don’t think I am involved in all of them, but wanted to check with you so I can be prepared. Which of these agenda items will you want my input on?”



3. What will we be doing or deciding on this topic?

We recommend that meeting planners map out “achievements,” rather than agenda items. An agenda item is something like this: “New Campaign Poster Design.” An achievement looks like this, “by the end of the session we will have reviewed the new poster design and offered suggestions for the next draft.” If your meeting owner doesn’t specify the achievement, this question can help him/her to define it. He/she likely has one in mind. This helps the whole group to focus on the task at hand and can avoid a long presentation — or an unfocused discussion — about the poster.

“Just so I know how to focus my comments here, can you tell me what we will be doing or deciding with this topic?”


4. What decisions or actions have we agreed to on this topic?

It is all too common to end a discussion without confirming what just got decided and who is taking the lead on it. You may feel relief to move onto the next topic, but watch out! If we didn’t get to a finish, this item is going to come back as another meeting to have the same discussion. So, as you move from one agenda item to the next, use this question to confirm where the group has landed.

“Before we move on, I am not sure what just got decided here. What decisions or actions have we agreed to on this topic? Who is taking the lead on that?”


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