How to Run a Good Meeting Even When You're Not Facilitator

If your meeting facilitator doesn't know how to run a good meeting, the right preparation can help meetings run better.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #24

Today's topic is how to lead a meeting when you're not the official facilitator

Hi, this is Sydney from the mid-West. And I'd like to know what I can do if my team leader doesn't want to try some new meeting ideas. I love those suggestions and so do a few of my co-workers. We really wanted to try them out and our team leader said, "No, our meetings are different." And they're not. What can we do to kinda start sneaking these messages in, so we're not united with hate, but genuinely enjoy seeing each other and feel like we're accomplishing something? Thanks!

The quick and dirty tip is to ask your team leader questions to help you prepare, and make sure the questions will end up "backleading" your team leader to prepare as well.

Oh, boy, meetings! I just love meetings... No, I don't. I hate meetings. And it sounds like you do, too! "Our meetings are different," says your team leader. Yeah, right. Let me guess: you show up not knowing why you're meeting, you take way too long to do way too little, and you leave not quite knowing what to do. People are bored, the same people dominate every time, and often what's said may be interesting, but it isn't relevant enough to justify time away from your job. The whole thing feels like wasted time. Just like meetings at every other company in existence. And your team leader thinks your meetings are different? That's the ultimate. Everyone thinks their  team meetings are different. And pretty much everyone is wrong.

You're like Lex Luthor's henchmen as he plots to take over the world: you may be brilliant in your own right, but his ego makes it necessary for you to play the part of a bumbling fool. You need to find a way to guide the meeting, without Lex Luthor, er, your team leader, realizing you oppose his diabolical plot. Use questions to pursue the cause of justice. You'll ask your fearless leader for the information that will help you be productive, so you can be better prepared. Even Lex Luthor likes it when sidekicks are prepared. And in order to answer, Lex, er, your team leader has to figure out the answers. So he'll show up with those things in mind, even if they weren't his idea.

Start with "what results do you think we want from the meeting? I'd like to show up prepared." As you play the cowering henchman, listen closely. Find out if it's an information, decision-making, team-building, or brainstorming meeting. Then review the Meeting Madness episode, and ask follow-up questions depending on the meeting type.

For informational meetings, ask who will be there and what information they'll need. If this is a regular meeting, you probably know this. Then tailor what you say to target the people who care. Again, use questions. That lets them be responsible for what they do with the information. Your job is conveying it, their job is using it. "Zombie reanimation powder prices are through the roof. Ashton, how will this affect our world domination plans?" or "We had two washers and a little rubber thingee left over after rebuilding the Doomsday Device. Leslie, do you think it will still work? After all, how important can two little parts be?"

For decision-making meetings, ask about the process and the decision. "How will we choose which world domination plan to use? I'd like to show up prepared." If Lex says, "We'll choose the cheapest plan," you know to be prepared with cost data. If he says, "We'll go with the most certain plan," you know to bring quality and reliability data.

For brain-storming, ask "What should I research? I'd like to show up prepared."

And for team-building, "How do you think we could get people to bond even closer?" For this one, you can do some of it yourself. Talk to other members and put fun and bonding into the meeting as best you can. One word of advice, however. Some people think it's fun to have a group bonfire and burn the team leader in effigy. Not a smart move. Try something nicer. I like playing "Compliment Bingo." Every time your team leader starts a sentence with the letter "T," you have to start your next statement by complimenting someone at the meeting. He says, "Today, we will dominate the world!" and then you slyly say, "Kirby, you do such a great job with graphics, can you draw up the worldwide domination org chart?" Then at least you're getting it from each other. (Hmm... not sure that came out right.)

Since you asked all these preparation questions, your team leader has had to think through the issues as well. Now it's time to get good ole Lex to create an agenda.

Get Lex to think timing by asking how long a topic will take. It's easy if the meeting has many purposes, like information sharing and decision-making. Then you can ask about each phase. "Will we have enough time after the status report to make the world domination decision? I'd like to make sure I come prepared." You can gently figure out a rough agenda with follow-on questions like, "Is three minutes really enough time?"[[AdMiddle]

Since you and your co-henchmen all want change, you can each ask one or two of these questions and ease Lex into your way of thinking. I wouldn't all start at once! Bombarding your team leader with a gazillion questions might make him feel uncomfortable. Your goal is for everyone to enjoy accomplishing things together, and "everyone" includes Lex. So ask about goals, topics, decisions, research, and timing. You get the information to prepare, and your team leader ends up preparing, to give you the information. Soon, you'll discover the right questions can lead even Lex Luthor to drop plans of world domination and live a life of honor, courage, and saving the world.

This is Stever Robbins. If you have a question about how to Work Less and Do More, e-mail getitdone@quickanddirtytips.com

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.