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How can facilitators ensure effective, collaborative meetings?

It may be challenging to make sure everyone's voice is heard in collaborative meetings, but a good facilitator can ensure this happens.

The biggest key to hosting effective and collaborative meetings is to ensure everyone feels safe in expressing his or her opinion. There must be a feeling of trust within the team that their thoughts and insights are important, and that disagreements will be worked through respectfully.

There are several rules of etiquette for hosting and facilitating collaborative meetings. These will differ, depending on the type of meeting, number of participants, formality and urgency of decisions that need to be made, and other logistics. Having an agenda prepared and shared with everyone ahead of time will help keep the meeting running smoothly.

The agenda should be clear on how much time will be spent on different topics. It might be good to timebox these, but also to have a "parking lot" area to note topics that still need further exploration or follow-up actions or meetings before decisions can be made.

The facilitator must guarantee that all voices are heard. Some people are naturally quieter in meetings than others and, often, their opinions are overlooked. There may be times when they don't feel informed enough to speak in front of a group; however, a good facilitator will ensure that no one feels intimidated about speaking up when appropriate.

It may be a special challenge to ensure everyone is heard when there are remote participants in a meeting. Facilitators need to be careful not to ignore or forget about those who are called into collaborative meetings. The people on the phone will also be at a disadvantage because they aren't able to see the body language of the people in the room or join in on spontaneous whiteboard discussions. One way to help remedy this is to have remote participants have a buddy who is physically at the meeting and who can communicate via instant messaging any important things the remote person can't see.

There are a number of ways facilitators can foster collaboration during meetings, but if everyone has an attitude of trust and respect for one another, collaborative meetings will occur naturally.

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