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10 Tips to Facilitating Leadership Team Discussions

Tuesday, Dec. 27th 2016

It is one thing to have a conversation with an individual leader to make decisions or to build commitment to an idea–but quite another to lead a discussion with a leadership team, with their varying perspectives and goals. Here is a list of things that I have found most helpful in facilitating discussions with leadership teams.

1. Be very clear on what the objectives and desired outcomes of the leadership discussion should be. Get agreement from the top leader who will be present on the key objectives prior to the discussion and ensure that those objectives are sent ahead of time to leadership team participants. Ensure that the length of the meeting is sufficient to meet the objectives for the meeting.

2. Be clear on your role. Are you focused on facilitating the discussion or are you adding your own opinions? It is difficult to do both effectively. If you are going to need to do both, decide ahead of time which topics REALLY matter to you, where you want to add your opinion. Outside of those key topics, focus on facilitating so you can focus on group dynamics (see below). Also: your personal credibility matters a great deal here. You’ll need to work on your personal leadership brand such that you are viewed as someone who “knows their stuff” and is competent to lead the leadership team in a discussion. That may be something that you have to earn–through repeated positive impressions and contributions–over time.

3. Be clear on who should be in the meeting. Ensure that the key decision makers will be present for the time needed for the discussion. If key decision makers are not available or planning to leave early, either reschedule the discussion or get alignment ahead of time about how decisions will be made in their absence and how they will be informed of the discussion. Also, determine ahead of time how you will encourage participation and input from people participating remotely by teleconference or video-conference.

4. Be prepared for discussions. Know the background behind the discussion topic—past circumstances, market data, implications for the future, feelings of others in the organization about the topic, etc. In addition to firmly understanding the key objectives, plan the discussion framework sequence, forecast objections to key ideas, and prepare for how anticipated conflicts between team members might be resolved.

5. Start your leadership meeting with an overview of the discussion objectives and what decisions need to be made by the end of the discussion. It is also helpful, depending on the topic, to work with the team at this point to identify how decisions will be made (majority vote? consensus?), how conflicts should be addressed, and how off-topic discussions will be handled—before the primary discussion even starts.

6. Layout the first discussion point. If it is the first point of a proposal, present the idea, identified pros and cons, and ask for feedback from the team. If the first discussion point is to gain ideas, start with the first question to start the conversation.

7. Manage contribution. Most groups have individuals who either stay silent or speak frequently.

a. For those that stay silent, ask that person “We’ve heard from A and B, but I’d like to hear from you, C. What are your thoughts on this?

   b. For those that talk a great deal, say “Thanks, A, for your thoughts. I’d like to hear other team member’s perspectives. B and C, what are your ideas on this?”

8. Manage conflict. There is usually disagreement and conflict in leadership teams. That’s normal. One way to help mitigate some conflict is to agree at the beginning of the discussion as to the key criteria by which decisions will be made, and then evaluate perspectives against that set of criteria. However, conflicts can still occur. To address conflict between two leadership team members, let’s say “A” and “B”, try:

a. Asking person A to share the rationale for their point of view—pros and cons. Having them list both         the pros and cons to their point of view can help them see the perspective of the other person.

b. Asking person B to share the rationale for their point of view- pros and cons.

c. Asking persons C and D to share their reactions.

d. If the discussion goes in circles, ask the group “how shall we resolve this?” Here are some options:

i. Postpone decision pending more information

ii. Keeping talking until you have consensus

iii. Majority vote

iv. Top leader decides

9. Summarize what the group has decided and check for agreement. Ask “Is this what we have decided?” Just asking that simple, clarifying question can lead to some important discussions, and helps to “finalize” the discussion on that point.

10. Determine as a group what they will a) do next and b) say to their teams about the discussion held. Decisions don’t mean much until there is a commitment to do something about them. Agreeing on who is doing what, and when, is critical. Also, when leadership teams get together it is often the case that others outside the room will want to know what went on and what decisions were made. Agreeing ahead of time what will be said to those not in the discussion after the discussion is over will go a long way in building alignment as a larger team.

Practice and experience make all of the difference here. I’ve found that by facilitating these types of conversations many times that I’ve learned and improved each time. I’ve made mistakes as well as had successes, and learned from both.

And so can you! Good luck.

Todd Averett is the President of Leading People Partners, LLC, a consulting, executive coaching, and training firm that specializes in partnering with leaders and HR professionals to more effectively lead the people side of business. Check out our podcast, “Leading the People Side of Business“, on iTunes. 

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Leading People Partners

Leading People Partners, LLC
Email: todd@leadingpeoplepartners.com