Facilitation Tools for Organizing Meetings
To build our organizations to scale, we need productive, engaging, and purposeful meetings that keep people coming back. The following tools, organized around suggested goals, can be adapted for many purposes. Some tools link to longer resources; others are described briefly, below. In addition to tools, we include facilitator behaviors – ways for organizers to support a group, regardless of the tool being used. Many examples are written with organizing committee meetings in mind, but most tools can be adapted for different sized groups.
Open a Meeting
Share Information & Updates
Debrief a Past Action or Event
Practice Direct Communication
Navigate Conflict or Disagreement
Encourage Task Accountability
Welcome New People
Deepen Camaraderie, Playfulness, & Authenticity
OPEN A MEETING
One-Minute Introductions (TOOL) – Alternative to long, open-ended go-arounds. Offer a simple structure: everyone gets a time limit, i.e. 60 seconds, to introduce themselves or respond to a short prompt, with someone keeping time. Everyone is seen by the whole group, facilitators/organizers get information about attendees, and all within a clear time limit.
Mingle (TOOL) – Another alternative to a go-around. In this tool, everyone is invited to “mingle” around the room and have as many one-on-one interactions as possible, in response to a prompt. It gets everyone moving, assists people to interact with several others. A lot can be exchanged in a short amount of time! Learn more.
Diversity Welcome (TOOL) – A ritual welcoming, naming aspects of diversity in the room. Can be adapted for different types of meetings and trainings. Learn more.
Setup key agenda items with “frontloading” (BEHAVIOR) – “Frontloading” is the way we give information and set expectations about agenda items in ways that get people curious, share an underlying value, or simply lay out the general direction to keep folks engaged. Learn more.
Paper Plate Challenge (TOOL) – Support people to plan multiple steps ahead, for a campaign or project. Generate options and discussion for how to meet shared goals. Learn more.
Mock Debate (TOOL) – Sometimes a simple debate format (like a high school debate team) helps us uncover gaps in our strategy. Form two teams. Each is assigned to either argue for or against a statement like, “The only way we’ll win is by convincing the city manager they have more to fear from us than from the City Council…”
Tell a story (BEHAVIOR) – Use a story from history or a peer organization to foreshadow a decision, share a vision, or draw comparisons with your work.
DEBRIEF A PAST ACTION OR EVENT
Maximize/Minimize List (TOOL) – A two-sided list – one side about “ways we maximized our effectiveness,” and another about “ways we minimized our effectiveness.” Can be used to evaluate any kind of action or experience, to become more effective next time. Learn more (an example focused on ‘effective learning’).
Sentence Completions (TOOL) – Offer the beginning of a sentence for people to finish, in pairs, small groups, around a circle, etc. For example, “One way we showed up powerfully at the public hearing was…” This is a great tool for inviting risky or vulnerable content, like, “A way I felt challenged during today’s canvas was…”
For facilitating after hard news, a political loss, or negative event, see “Training after Tough News”
PRACTICE DIRECT COMMUNICATION
Sentence Completions (TOOL) – Offer the beginning of a sentence for people to finish, in pairs, small groups, around a circle, etc. For example, “A type of support I need from this team is…”
Model getting specific (BEHAVIOR) – Offer support for getting more specific. After a vague statement like, “Some people don’t seem to…”, ask the person, “who, specifically, are you talking about?”
Model directness (BEHAVIOR) – “Sam, I don’t want you to feel put on the spot. But I do want to offer you feedback about how this planning process has been going, so far. Can we figure out how to do that, together?”
NAVIGATE CONFLICT OR DISAGREEMENT
Spectogram (TOOL) – A way to explore disagreement, engage a whole group, and uncover a range of differences (beyond just the opposing ‘sides’ in a conflict). Mark out two positions, “The north end of the room is ‘strongly agree; the south end is ‘strongly disagree.’” Invite people to stand anywhere along the spectrum, according to their position. You can invite folks, across the spectrogram, to share why they are there. As more people share, you can invite people to change positions as they’re moved by others. Learn more.
Ambivalence Chart (TOOL) – Ambivalence charts can support a group to move through mixed or contradictory positions on an issue, including working through conflict, or to decide it’s not worth it. I.e. listing “what are the benefits of…[facing this disagreement, exploring this conflict]” and “what are the downsides of…”
Name a Pattern (BEHAVIOR) – “Stepping back a little, to me this discussion looks like an example of us avoiding open disagreement, because we’re worried about it becoming an argument. This group has mostly had disagreements in private, side conversations, not out in the open, and I think we’re all worried about whether ‘we can have healthy fights in this family’. What would it take for us to explore where we don’t agree?”
Offer ‘Big Picture’ Framing (BEHAVIOR) – …during more tense moments. “It seems like we’re getting into some disagreement here. I just want to pause us, and check-in about what’s happening. I’m reading that this is a healthy [discussion, disagreement, fight, etc.] about what’s happening and how we get to [our larger goals]. How are others seeing what’s playing out here right now?”
ENCOURAGE TASK ACCOUNTABILITY
Closed Eye Process (TOOL) – Reflect on a past experience for lessons. “Think of a time you felt really accomplished after completing a task you took on in this group. What supported you to make sure it got done? What support did you give yourself, what did you get from others?” Learn more.
Sentence Completions (TOOL) – Offer the beginning of a sentence for people to finish, in pairs, small groups, around a circle, etc. “One thing that has gotten in my way of following through on my commitments is…,” “One kind of support I could use is…,” “One way I could ask for that support is…”
Keep a running list of commitments (BEHAVIOR) – A shared task list, referred back to over time, makes assignments clear and enlists the group in shared accountability.
Pair Share (TOOL) – Support people to share a task they took on at the last meeting, with another person, including a status report, what got in the way, troubleshooting challenges, etc.
WELCOME NEW PEOPLE
Sentence Completions (TOOL) – Offer the beginning of a sentence for people to finish, in pairs, small groups, around a circle, etc. “One thing you should know about our team is…” “One thing I wish I knew when I joined this committee is…”
Line Up Challenge (TOOL) – Line up in order of when you joined the group. Turn to the person next to you and discuss how you think we “move up” in this group. As a group, discuss what you think this says about how we’re strong or how we should improve at recruitment & welcoming new people.
Timeline Activity (TOOL) – Create a shared timeline, showing when different members joined, what activities our group was doing at those times, and what external organizing conditions were. How do they relate? What do we notice?
Use rituals to recognize new members (BEHAVIOR) – Whether to open a meeting, close one, or neither, a recurring onboarding activity builds a welcoming culture. I.e. invite anyone who joined over the last week/month to… tell us one strength they’re bringing, one hope they have, one thing they see in the group that they want to make sure we see too, invite appreciations for one contribution they’ve made, etc.
DEEPEN CAMARADERIE, PLAYFULNESS, & AUTHENTICITY
Games (TOOLS) – Warm-ups, energizers, icebreakers – whatever you call them – play is serious business. Use games to highlight how we’re different or how we’re similar, invite people to reveal a hidden part of themselves, inspire silliness or creativity… Game ideas.
Big Wind Blows (TOOL) – This game invites people to share things that are true about themselves, and lightly reveals similarities and differences in the group. Learn more.
Invite someone on the margins to lead an activity (BEHAVIOR) – Create opportunities for someone on the edge of the group, or who might be less recognized, to lead or co-facilitate an activity or agenda item.
Sequence activities for increasing risk (BEHAVIOR) – Across meetings or within a meeting, do “low stakes” activities that build camaraderie first, to help the group warm up for more intense activities, like strategy debate, working through conflict, etc.
Model vulnerability (BEHAVIOR) – When a facilitator models revealing something vulnerable or unseen about themselves, it gives others permission to do the same.