Facilitating effective meetings: Creating desired meeting results

A facilitator is one who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups are able to function effectively and make high-quality decisions.* (Bens, 2012)

team meeting
I recently attended a full day session on building facilitation skills for meetings. Despite the large amount of time I spend in meetings—as a participant and as a facilitator-participant—I have never formally learned about meeting design. The facilitator, Charles Holmes  ran a great session and I learned a lot. In this blog post, I write about one key idea from the session: Desired meeting results (the ‘learning outcomes’ equivalent of meetings).

Desired Meeting Results

Desired meeting results (DMRs) are concise written statements sent to meeting participants ahead of time, which help participants picture what they must accomplish by the end of the meeting.

Characteristics of DMRs

  • Are specific and measurable
  • Are nouns (not verbs) [the verbs appear in the agenda]
  • Answer the stem “By the end of the meeting, we will have…” (a decision, a list, an agreement, an awareness, a plan, etcetera)

Why use DMRs?

DMRs help participants gain clarity on the following:

  • What do we want to accomplish in this meeting?
  • How will we know this meeting has been a success?
  • What do we want to leave this meeting with?

How DRMs differ from meeting purpose and agenda

DMRs are different from the purpose, which describes the overall “why?” of having the meeting. And, they are different from the agenda, which describes the how of getting to the DMRs (the agenda is where you find the verbs).

Below is the framework that was suggested at the workshop. As mentioned above, this information would be sent to participants ahead of time:

  1. Why we are having this meeting (this is the purpose)
  2. DMRs
  3. How we will achieve the DMRs (this is the agenda; it links every item to a DMR)

Here is my stab at applying the framework to a meeting I am having on Tuesday.

Revisiting the DMRs at the close of the meeting

At the end of the meeting, it is important to revisit the DMRs. And, though this isn’t uniquely related to the DMRs, it is also useful to spend some time debriefing “What worked?” and “What would you do differently next time?”

For additional resources on meeting design, see:

MIT Human Resources

Into the Heart of Meetings: Basic Principles of Meeting Design (Book, 2013)

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done (Book, 2014)

And, of course, work by Ingrid Bens (quoted at top of page)


*Bens, I. (2012). Facilitating with ease: Core skills for facilitators, team leaders and members, managers, consultants, and trainers. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Liberating structures


I recently had the pleasure of participating in a Liberating Structures workshop in Vancouver. Liberating structures can be defined as “microstructures that make it quick and simple for groups of people of any size to radically improve how they interact and work together” (Lipmanowicz & McCandless, 2013, p. 21). At the core of Liberating Structures’ philosophy is the idea that small and simple shifts in our routine interactions can make it possible for everyone to be included and engaged.

During the 2 1/2 day workshop, I tried out a variety of approaches that I can use in my facilitation, teaching, small group interactions, and individual activities. Several of the approaches were new, while others I had encountered before –usually, in a slightly different way than they were presented at the immersion workshop (see here for full description of all the miscrostructures).

I have been thinking about what made some of the microstructures feel more purposeful at the immersion workshop as compared to in other settings where I have used and/or encountered them (or variations of).  I’ll use 1-2-4-all as an example because of it’s likeness to think-pair-share as I think about the differences and similarities:

  • The invitation: During the LS workshop, participants were encouraged to pay close attention to the invitation (one of the 5 design elements in all the microstructures). Though the invitation in think-pair-share is just as important as in 1-2-4 all, I have tended to create the wording ‘on the fly’.  I have typically used “Reflect on…”, “On your own, think about…”. Now I am paying more attention to how I choose my words for even a ‘simple’ activity and writing these out before hand.
  • Purpose: The invitation (and all other design elements) are closely linked to purpose. The importance of purpose has always been top of mind, and the point was made over and over during the workshop.
  • Sharing in foursomes: In think-pair-share, I sometimes ask pairs to join and discuss in fours before we begin to report out in the large group.  In 1-2-4-all, the foursome piece is key to the activity because the purpose of this activity is to provide a venue for expressing thoughts, gathering diversity of input and building meaning-making among the group.  When doing 1-2-all, and the foursome piece is left out, I think there is less opportunity to achieve the purposes described previously.
  •  Sharing an important/valuable/worthwhile idea to the large group: What made this step most useful for me was that our facilitator instructed (“invited”) us to consider and come to some agreement (as a foursome) on: “What is one idea that stood out in your conversation?” He also suggested that only those ideas that were important and valuable to the whole group be shared with the whole group. In doing so, he made me think carefully about what I wanted to share and why.

Thank you to Leva Lee and Tracy Kelly from BC Campus‘s Professional Learning, UBC CTLT and others who organized this worthwhile event!  See here  for two related posts on Liberating Structures by Tracy Kelly.

Introduction to Process Design and Facilitation (Parts 1,2)

Part IWhat do I need to know before I design or facilitate (about myself and what’s going on around me)?”

This workshop introduced some of the key ideas and approaches of a Process Consultation framework, which I can apply to my teaching, facilitation, or professional practice.

(Learning Objectives, from the advertisement) By the end of the workshop, successful learners will be able to:

  • Explain what “process” is and begin to notice how it appears and affects your environment
  • Begin to use information about context and process to understand and effectively influence those situations
  • Appreciate the way that an intentionally designed process can help achieve goals

Main take-aways (Workshop 1 Notes in PDF):This workshop was an opportunity to consider how our prior knowledge and experiences influences what we observe and, therefore, affects how we interpret a situation. When people are looking at a situation from different perspectives, there may be a “framework mismatch”. Therefore, in any process, we need to carefully consider the beliefs, assumptions and processes operating in the background.

We did a useful activity in which ‘the client’ talked about an issue (in my case it was about the work with the Fac Dev Working Group) and the consultant asked questions (did NOT jump to solutions–this was about getting context and establishing empathy). The consultant made a mental list of the top things that stood out and why; later, the consultant had a conversation centered around “these are the perspectives and questions I want to share to help my client understand/resolve their concerns”

Part II: “How do I design a process based on the discoveries I’ve made?”

This workshop provided an experiential guide to designing processes for professional, teaching, and learning contexts, informed by your own specialized knowledge and understanding of how people work.

(From the advertisement) By the end of the workshop participants will be able to:

  • Answer the questions: “what is design?” and “what is design thinking?”
  • Design a process for their particular context (e.g., a meeting, workshop, event, learning experience, culture change, etc.)

Main take-aways (Workshop 2 Notes in PDF): In this workshop, we continued to work in the process design piece. We used the image of an iceberg to consider things that were more obvious and all the other less obvious factors in a situation (again, I was working with the FDWG issue).  We were asked first to visualize the ideal, then to consider why there was a gap between what is and what could be.  We looked at the mental models that might interfere with goal achievement and talked about the “secondary processes” that operate along with the primary process.  At the end, we used a design template to help articulate the broad goal/the objectives and the activities that can support these objectives (we also considered what is the cost of meeting the objectives).

Instructional Skills Workshop

Professional Growth: Instructional Skills Workshops + Narrative Skills Workshops

Workshop participation

Workshop participation

I have been an Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) facilitator since 2004.

As part of my involvement with the ISW network, I have participated in various ISW-specific professional development activities. These include:

  • Flexible ISW ProD session (January 13, 2015. 2 hours).
  • ISW Institute and 35 Year Celebration (September 26-28, 2014)
  • Narrative Skills Workshop (July 10, 2013) Glynis Boultbee. See here for a summary document of the NSW by Glynis.
  • ISW Joint Professional Development Day (October 22, 2012; December 3, 2008; February 25, 2008; May 17, 2007; December 6, 2006; December, 2005; May 18, 2005)
  • Workplace Fairy Tales: An exploration (May 2, 2007) Glynis Boultbee
  • ISW Fall Institute (Bowen Island, November 24-25, 2006)
  • Bowen Island Retreat for new facilitators (Fall, 2005)
  • Facilitator Development Workshop (5 days, June 2004)
  • Instructional Skills Workshop (3 days, April, 2004)


Creative Commons Licensed Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideaconstructor/9293826708/


Professional Growth: Facilitation

As an educational developer, I use facilitation in various ways: I regularly use facilitative teaching in workshops, and also engage in process design and facilitation when I consult with instructors and when I work with my colleagues on teaching and learning initiatives for the UBC community.

I am especially attracted to creative facilitation approaches, such as those that use storytelling, music, and movement. I am often keen to try out new things as long as the purpose for using them is clear — and then to be more courageous about this when co-facilitating.

In order to grow as a facilitator, I participate in ongoing professional development. Some of the workshops I have participated in are below*:

Facilitation and Process Consulting Workshops

  • The Covid pandemic prompted me to grow my skills in online facilitation. I have done so in various ways, including by participating in the Vancouver LS User Group sessions and those offered by the Virtual Facilitation group.
  • Effective Group Facilitation. This course offered a comprehensive framework for group facilitation with many opportunities to practice. To read a blog post I wrote about the course, see here. To read my daily notes, see:  Day 1 notes. Day 2 notes. Day 3 notes. (Facilitator: Julian Griggs. February 22-24, 2017; Offered by SFU Continuing Studies).
  • Facilitating Effective Meetings. As a follow up to this session, I wrote two blog posts: one on using Desired Meeting Results and the other on Ground Rules. Facilitator: Charles Holmes, CE Holmes Consulting (May 2016, offered by UBC AAPS).
  • Design Tips for Virtual Facilitators. This 1-hour webinar demonstrated and engaged the learners in a number of engagement strategies I had never experienced online. Facilitator: Cynthia Clay, Netspeed Learning Solutions. (March 31, 2016)
  • Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop. A workshop that explored approaches and techniques to facilitated group processes. Facilitators (various). (February 17-19, 2016). See here for blog post post-session.
  • Leadership Team Coaching to Develop Capacity. Facilitators: David Rubeli and Barbara Berry. (STLHE Conference Session, 2015).
  • An Integrated Approach to Educational Development. Facilitators: Jessica Earle-Meadows, Janet Dhanani and Erin Yun. This session explored the use of process consultation approaches in educational development (January 2015).
  • Inclusive Leadership. In this session, participants built a shared understanding of leadership and identified expectations and values around what it means to be a leader. Facilitated: PeerNet BC (November 13, 2014).
  • Conflict Theatre Summer Series. This series allowed participants to explore how to use Conflict Theatre to work with/through conflict in the workplace. This session was based on the work of David Diamond and Theatre for the Living. Facilitated and organized by: Julia McLaughlin and UBC HR. (Summer 2014, 8 weeks)
  • Introduction to Process Design and Facilitation. (Part 1: February 5, 2014; Part 2: March 5, 2014) Facilitators: Joseph Topornycky and Jessica Earle-Meadows. Workshop notes and reflections
  • Advanced Facilitation Skills. Facilitation skills for senior educational developers. (October 28-30, 2013. Educational Developers Caucus Institute, UBC). Facilitator: Ruth Rodgers
  • GroupWorks: Using the Group Works deck to facilitate (June 29, 2013). Facilitators: Various
  • Process Consulting: Designing the Activities and Facilitating the Process (June 25, 2013). Facilitator: Janice Johnson
  • Facilitation and Facilitators: We Focus on the Journey, Rather than the Destination! (November 8, 2012). Facilitator: Janice Johnson
  • Facilitation Opportunities and Challenges (November 29, 2012). Facilitators: Janice Johnson and Cindy Underhill.

*Unless otherwise noted, the event was offered through the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology.

Instructional Skills Workshops (ISW)

For a list of workshops I have taken through the ISW Networksee here.

Creative commons licensed photo by girlray. http://www.flickr.com/photos/girlray/8908825980/