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Facilitation Techniques for Meetings

Invaluable for running tenant association meetings and more….


Running Tenant Association Meetings

source: Citizens Committee of New York City, Neighborhood Leadership Institute

Running effective meetings is crucial to your Association. You want your meetings to be well prepared, focused on planning for action, and facilitated in an efficient, yet involving and upbeat manner. Be careful not to have too many meetings. It is probably enough to have one or two general membership meetings per year, and a monthly meeting for the Executive and. other committees. If there is on important issue you are dealing with, such as a rent increase above the guideline, you can increase the frequency of your meetings.


The Agenda


The agenda is a list of items of business that the organization will discuss and deal with at the meeting. If possible, it is a good idea for the agenda to be circulated in advance so that people attending the meeting can be prepared to address the issues.


You may want to consider ordering the decisions on the agenda as follows:


• Easy decisions – Dealing with the easy matters first gets the meeting off to the right start.


• Hard, Controversial Decisions – These require more time and energy, so you don’t want to leave them to the end, when time is running out and people are tired.


• Moderate, non-controversial decisions – At the end, put decisions that are of moderate importance, but upon which most people will agree.  Sample Agenda:


1. Call to order.


2. Reading and approval of agenda.


3. Reading of previous minutes.


4. Approval of minutes.


5. Business arising from minutes.


6. Reports.


7. Correspondence.


8. Unfinished business.


9. New business.


10. Adjournment.


Meeting Procedures


In order to run effective meetings, there need to be some rules or guidelines which everyone agrees to. The rules themselves are not as important as the fact that everyone understands and agrees to them. The following are some suggestions about how to run a meeting based on Robert’s Rules of order, the rules commonly used for parliamentary proceedings. They may b-e used or modified by your group.


• Speaking in Turn – Although speaking one at a time seems like common sense -and common courtesy – in a meeting where there are important issues being discussed, people often try to speak all at once. In order to avoid this, the chair should keep a speakers list. When someone wants to speak she or he raises their hand. The chair keeps a list of people who want to speak, and allows them to do so in turn.


• Making Motions – A motion is a proposal for the group to take a particular action, which is debated and then voted upon. Motions allow the group to make dear decisions which can be recorded in the minutes and avoid confusion later. Effective motions include what is to be done, who is to do it, when it is to be done, and how it will be followed up.


• Some Tips on Chairing a Meeting – Having a good chair is crucial to running a good meeting. Chairing is an important responsibility, but also something that gets easier with practice.  The chairperson is responsible to:


1. See that the agenda is covered;


2. Make sure everyone who wishes to speak has the opportunity to;


3. Keep interest in the subject;


4. Make sure all sides to an issue are explored fully;


5. Make sure all persons feel comfortable, respected, and free to speak;


6. Ensure everyone is sure of the issues, what is being discussed and the possible consequences of the decision being made; and


7. Stay neutral.


• The following are some guidelines for effectively chairing a meeting:


1. Staff the Meeting Properly – For a large meeting, plan to start ten to fifteen minutes after the official meeting time, for a smaller meeting, start right on time.


2. Welcome Everyone and Introduce People – Begin-the-meeting by welcoming people-and thanking them for coming. Introduce yourself, and other key people in the Association (for example, the Executive members).


3. Explain the Meeting Rules – You may want to have a written summary of rules for new members. If people do not understand the rules, they will not be able to participate.


4. Stick to the Agenda – If-the- discussion- wanders from the’ original agenda item, point this out .and try to bring .the discussion back on topic. If something important has been brought up which needs further discussion, it can be added later on the agenda, under new business.


5. Bring Closure to Discussions – When a discussion is dragging on, summarize the main points, and if a decision needs to be made, ask for someone to make a motion.


6. Summarize the Meeting Results and Follow Up – Before closing the meeting, summarize the main results, and what follow-up will occur. This leaves people feeling like the meeting has accomplished something, and reminds people of what commitments they have made.


7. Thank People – Thank the people who prepared things for the meeting, set up the room, brought refreshments etc. Also thank people for coming out and making the meeting a success.


Below is another guide to facilitation, intended for more consensus-based meetings, and not exclusively tenant association meetings.  It is presented here as a reference.

source: Lancaster Avenue Autonomous Space, Philadelphia, PA



Taking breaks – Most meeting agendas should have some break time scheduled. This schedule will depend on the length of the meeting and the recognized needs of the participants. Sometimes the scheduled breaks need to be adjusted to respond to the progress of the meeting. This can happen because the energy of the group needs redirecting, because you’re ahead of schedule and don’t need a break yet, or because you’re behind schedule and need a break at a different point in the agenda. This process can be time consuming unless the facilitator firmly directs the group.

Time outs – This is not a disciplinary procedure, but rather a chance for everyone to catch their breath. We use a format that is very short, 15-30 seconds and can be called by anyone in the meeting. Once a time out has been called, everything stops. When the time out ends, the person who was speaking at the time continues speaking.

Energy breaks– To redirect the energy in the room, you don’t necessarily need a full break. Energy breaks can be very short, and it doesn’t matter what you do. You can have everyone stand up & turn around, tap pencils on table for 5 seconds, clap hands, everybody talk at once” sing silly song, take a time out. Point is to bring attention to and change the energy level in the room, sometimes increasing the energy, sometimes calming it. Don’t be afraid to be wacky here.

Resetting the agenda – Realistic planning and great facilitation are no guarantees that a group will be able to stick to the agenda as accepted. Often the facilitator must contract’ for additional time for an agenda item or change the order of agenda items to respond to needs that arise during the meeting. This process works best when the facilitator is able to propose a solution. Delegating the task of keeping track of overall meeting timing can help the facilitator respond quickly.


Many times decision-making goes smoothly and quickly. Sometimes, however, groups get stuck and have difficulty coming to consensus. There are lots of reasons why groups get stuck, among them lack of a good option, lack of commonly held values, and difficult behavior patterns among the participants. Here are some suggested techniques to help move a stuck group along.

Different situations require different techniques. First, the facilitator must be able to determine nature of log jam and take appropriate action to help free the flow.

• Must make decision, one or two people object, rest of group supports:

ask the objectors point blank what needs to change for them to live with the decision;

ask the objectors what parts of the proposal are acceptable; perhaps the proposal-can be partially implemented while the objectionable parts are worked on;

suggest shortening trial period if possible;

• Must make decision, group is widely split on issue;

must the group really make the decision? challenge the time issue;

circle check-in – go around room, each person has small amount of time to say whatever they want, with no response. helps each individual see where their desires fit in with the rest of the group;

circle check-in with specific question – same as above, but focus the comments; i.e. what is your ideal, what can you live with? Getting people to state both their ideal and what they can live with can show where your broadest level of possibility lies. You may find enough common ground to proceed.

fishbowl – solicit a small number of folks who represent the diversity of opinion on the issue. Have them sit in the middle of the room and hold the discussion, while other meeting participants observe. You can set a short time limit, then repeat the exercise with different participants, or you can have folks from the outer circle rotate into the inner circle by tapping a particular person on the shoulder and trading places. Sometimes watching your opinion be represented by someone else helps you let go a little, which can open you up for other possibilities.

suggest making a temporary, one-time only decision. Sometimes the fear of setting precedent is what keeps us from agreeing to try something.

• Group is widely split but you have some time:

send the issue to a sub-committee. solicit volunteers who represent the disparity of opinion, charge them with drawing up a proposal to address the issue, OR, by consensus, vest them with the power to actually make the decision.

Some general techniques to keep in mind:


Reframe the basic questions. Instead of saying, “What’s wrong?”, ask “What’s right?” Instead of asking “What happens if we do this?”, ask “What happens if we don’t do this?”

Verify that people agree that there is a need to make the decision. If you’re trying to solve a particular problem, is there agreement that the issue is a problem?

Restate agreements already reached or that you are hearing expressed.

Restate or refer back to the proposal at hand. Is everyone still responding to the proposal, or has the discussion become focussed on one person’s interpretation of or reaction to the proposal?

Restate new ideas that have come up that can be integrated into the original proposal. Check for agreement on those ideas.

Request specificity. Help individuals move from general dislike to specific critique. Most people who end up opposing a particular proposal start with a general feeling of dislike or discomfort. That’s a fine starting place, but in order for the group to respond, the person needs to refine that general dis-ease into specific disagreements, so that changes can be made to the original proposal.

Individual behavior – All groups experience certain behavior patterns at various times, things like dominating the conversation, continually returning to a single issue, repeating oneself, repeating oneself, not saying anything but then acting disgruntled, getting into one-on-one dialogues, etc. Most folks who exhibit these behaviors already know they aren’t useful, but have had a tough time changing. We also may have giant buttons that are easily pushed when someone needs to remind us about our behavior. It is the job of the facilitator to make the group work, which means that sometimes s/he will need to call people on those behaviors. It can be risky, but someone’s gotta do it. Unless your group has a culture or agreement to do individual evaluations in the group, most folks won’t really change as a result of public confrontation.

Remember that some of the most disruptive behaviors are not necessarily verbal. Non­verbal reactions like harrumphing, snorting, sighing, laughing, eye-rolling, facial expressions, etc. can be very disempowering for individual speakers.

So here’s some of the ideas we have:

  • In the meeting, keep the behavioral feedback short.
  • Repeat what you heard the person say. This can help them feel heard and recognize whether or not their communication was effective.
  • Don’t allow the same people to speak over and over again. “Before I recognize ____, does anyone wish to speak who hasn’t said anything yet?” Or, “Seems like the conversation has narrowed to the two of you. Does anyone else wish to weigh in on this issue?”
  • Remind folks of any articulated ground rules the group has.
  • What are the underlying issues? Does the person keep bringing up the same issue because the group has given lip service but not actually moved on the issues s/he is raising? Does the person interrupt because they can’t hear? What kind of accommodations do individuals need to be present and attentive? Are there unaddressed issues of power and privilege at work? Does the person have any allies in the group?
  • Does the group need to address the issue of equalizing investment in the work?
  • And, sometimes you just have to set limits for someone. , I’m going to ask you to let others talk for a while.”
    • Consider meeting with the person outside of the meeting to give more personal feedback on their behavior in the group. The feedback may be more hearable, and you might learn where the behavior’s coming from and get some better ideas for how to help the person during the meetings.