Decoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral Facilitator

Decoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral Facilitator


Are you ever disappointed with the level of participation in  your meetings? If so, you are not alone. This is one of the biggest complaints I hear about meetings from my CEO members. In any meeting, regardless of its size or purpose, there are three roles that you can play:

  1. The Client- the one who presents the issue or problem.
  2. A Participant- a knowledgeable individual invited to help resolve the Client’s issue or problem.
  3. The Facilitator- the neutral meeting “manager” responsible for the processes and structure used to successfully run the meeting.

One major reason for limited participation and input is because the leader of the organization sometimes tries to play all three of these roles at the same time. What’s wrong with that? Think about it from the viewpoint of the Participants. By the nature of the position, the CEO/President has ultimate authority over them. Because the Facilitator manages the discussion, it is also a “power” position. Most of the CEO’s I know also exude a strong personality who make their positions well known. You have just hit the “power trifecta”; combining your own personal power with the inherent power of the Facilitator and the CEO/President position; unwittingly sending the signal of a pre-determined outcome. Not surprisingly, Participants become reluctant to share their opinions and end up supporting that pre-determined outcome- if they participate at all.

The Need for a Neutral Facilitator

In order to get free flowing, quality input from meeting Participants, it is essential to use a neutral (in both subject and organizational influence) Facilitator while limiting yourself to just playing the role of The Client.

Benefits of using a Facilitator in a meeting include:

  • Brings out different points of view by balancing the participation of introverts and extroverts.
  • Prevents the Client or any one Participant from monopolizing the discussion.
  • Increases involvement by encouraging Participants to solve problems, make decisions and think creatively.
  • Increases Participants’ ownership and commitment to action by involving them in the solution.
  • Saves time. The Facilitator keeps the discussion on track and focuses the Participants on the Client’s issue.
  • Flexibility and applicability to many types of discussions.

Facilitator Skills, Knowledge and Abilities

The role of Facilitator is similar to an Air Traffic Controller whose job is to help travelers arrive safely at their destinations but not to determine where those destinations should be. The Facilitator provides the structure, process and guidance for the meeting while staying out of the content. Just like the Air Traffic Controller, The Facilitator has specific responsibilities, skills and knowledge:

  • Physically prepares the meeting space.
  • Keeps the group on track by following predetermined processes.
  • Stays out of content discussion.
  • Publicly documents the content of the meeting.
  • Manages group dynamics and conflict.
  • Gives feedback on the process, never the content.
  • Encourages Participants to express thoughts, ideas, experiences and recommendations.
  • Gives Participants feedback on their behavior.
  • Regulates the pace of the meeting.
  • Keeps the meeting on schedule and brings it to a close.
  • Honors the written agenda and time commitments.
Knowledge and Skills:
  • Self-Awareness of the signals that he/she sends though his/her body language and tone of voice.
  • Awareness of the signals Participants send through their body language and tone of voice.
  • Understands how to effectively balance group participation and behavior.
  • Knowledge of the various processes, tools and techniques (brainstorming, evaluation, diagramming, etc.) necessary to produce each desired topic outcome.
  • Stays neutral.
  • Listens empathetically.
  • Clarifies and summarizes without judgment.
  • Asks open-ended questions in a manner that leaves Participants feeling good about their contribution and involvement.
  • Knows how to visibly document content such as on a flipchart.
  • Knows when to challenge or support the Participants.
  • Asks the Participants to identify and be responsible for agreed upon actions.
Training and Continuous Learning

Ideally, Facilitators should be professionally trained and there are organizations that specialize in this area (see the end of the blog for a list). Larger companies often train several individuals within their organization to ensure that a neutal Facilitator is always available.

Smaller organizations should consider training a few key individuals. If that is not feasible, book(s) on facilitation (see recommendations at the end of this blog) may substitute. Once some basic knowledge is acquired, experience and immediate feedback is the best path to competence.

As you introduce the practice of facilitated meetings in your organization, start by asking one of your trained individuals to voluntarily facility a Client’s issue, matching the complexity of the subject and group dynamics with the skill and experience of the Facilitator.

At the end of the meeting, thank your Facilitator and the Participants. Be sure to give the Facilitator feedback on their performance asking what he/she did well and what he/she can do better. Ongoing practice and feedback are key to developing The Facilitator’s skills and confidence.


Be clear on what role you assume in important discussions and how you are using your implied power. If you choose to be the Client, do not take on the roles of the Facilitator or Participant too. This helps create a safe environment that maximizes group participation and provides you many opportunities to practice your empathic listening!

Successful meetings don’t just happen. Using a neutral Facilitator will significantly improve the odds of that success. Try it in your next meeting and please share your experience.


Recommended Reading:

Decoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral FacilitatorDecoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral Facilitator  Crisp: Facilitation Skills for Team Leaders: Leading Organized Teams to Greater Productivity (Crisp Fifty-Minute Books)Decoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral Facilitator

Decoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral FacilitatorDecoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral Facilitator  The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation: Best Practices from the Leading Organization in Facilitation (J-B International Association of Facilitators)

Decoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral FacilitatorDecoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral Facilitator  The Secrets to Masterful Meetings: Ignite a Meetings Revolution!Decoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral Facilitator


Recommended Associations and Links

  1. The International Association of Facilitators
  2. International Institute for Facilitation
  3. The International Institute for Facilitation list of their required competencies for Certified Master Facilitators
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3 thoughts on “Decoding Meeting Success: The Need For a Neutral Facilitator”

  1. So few truly appreciate the importance of content neutrality while striving toward contextual mastery.

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