Master the Meeting: How To Facilitate Like A Pro With The 3 Ps

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“The outcome of a bad meeting is more meetings.”

We have all been there: meetings that could have been an email, over-attended but under-engaged.

One person speaks and everyone else is busy answering emails.

The meeting was planned to move everyone forward or get everyone on the same page, poor meetings create more meetings.

Why? Because of a lack of facilitation.

Facilitating a meeting is not just about setting an agenda and leading a discussion. It’s far more nuanced.

As someone who lives and breathes facilitation, I’ve identified three critical Ps that can make or break your meetings:

  1. Purpose
  2. People
  3. Process

Understanding these three Ps can help you set the stage for meaningful collaboration and impactful outcomes.

Without a clear purpose, a meeting is rudderless, aimlessly sailing towards more meetings.

In this article, I’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of these elements, from understanding why purpose trumps a regular agenda, to knowing who really needs to be in the room and how to keep everyone engaged.

I’ll also share some hands-on techniques to increase engagement and tips on how to hold successful meetings without a set agenda.

So, if you’re looking to master the art of facilitation, this article is for you.

The 3 Ps of Facilitation

1. Purpose: Why Are We Meeting?

“Just because there is an agenda, does not mean that there is a purpose.”

Before you invite a group and request their most important resources — time and attention — take a moment to question the purpose of the meeting.

Why should these individuals interrupt their workflow and direct their focus toward this gathering?

When we speak of a meeting’s purpose, we’re referring to the specific intent that lies behind bringing a group together.

This intent can encompass a broad spectrum of objectives, ranging from the dissemination of crucial information and decision-making to problem-solving, strategic planning, or even fostering personal connections among participants.

The purpose serves as a guiding beacon, ensuring that the meeting is not just a gathering but a meaningful and productive interaction for everyone involved.

Many teams often find themselves trapped in the cycle of recurring meetings, where standard agenda items are robotically checked off, devoid of meaningful discussion. This predictable pattern can lead to disengagement, where participants come to expect empty conversations and consequently stop preparing. The monotonous chant of “Nothing to report. No progress. Nothing new. Next item…” becomes the unfortunate norm.

It’s essential to grasp that meetings are not a default setting but rather a strategic tool with a distinct role that can’t be effortlessly substituted, such as through email communication.

When a meeting’s sole purpose narrows down to one person sharing information while others remain silent spectators, it’s a telltale sign that this meeting could have been conveyed through a simple email.

Meetings without a crystal-clear purpose leave attendees adrift, unprepared, and vulnerable to distractions.

When the ‘why’ of the meeting remains murky, participants may divert their attention towards emails or other tasks, resulting in a glaring lack of engagement.

This, in turn, perpetuates a vicious cycle, necessitating additional meetings to address what was initially overlooked.

To steer clear of this pitfall, it’s imperative that every meeting is underpinned by a well-defined purpose that transcends the confines of a mundane agenda.

When a meeting’s sole purpose narrows down to one person sharing information while others remain silent spectators, it’s a telltale sign that this meeting could have been conveyed through a simple email.

2. People: No Role, No Seat

Just because we have empty seats doesn’t mean we have to fill them.

We’ve seen a surge in the number of meeting participants since the pandemic has shifted meetings online.

But here’s the problem: Instead of inviting the right people, we often end up with meetings that feel more like a roll call of everyone available. It’s as if we’re throwing darts at a calendar and hoping something sticks.

Now, what’s worse than a meeting that drags on? Well, it’s not getting invited at all.

It might sound strange, but there’s a certain social aspect to being in the loop — even if we secretly dread the meetings.

The problem (and hidden cost) of this ‘invite everyone’ approach is that it creates a subtle issue: a lack of psychological safety.

When people show up without a clear role, they tend to disrupt the flow, and worse, they may question the overall purpose of the meeting.

This can make others uncomfortable and less likely to share their thoughts or ask questions.

To fix this, we need to be more selective with our invitations. It’s about assembling a group that’s genuinely relevant to the meeting’s purpose.

In my meetings and workshops, I enforce a strict rule: ‘No Tourists Allowed.’ This means if you don’t have a specific role or something valuable to contribute, you won’t be in the meeting. But you will receive a summary later if needed.

By doing this, we create a more focused and productive discussion. It’s about making meetings count and not just filling seats for the sake of it.

When people show up without a clear role, they tend to disrupt the flow, and worse, they may question the overall purpose of the meeting.

3. Process: Avoid the Alignment Trap

Don’t confuse physical with mental presence.

The reason why a bad meeting often leads to more meetings is because of a common misunderstanding.

Just because people are physically present doesn’t mean they’re paying attention, understanding, or ready to take action.

Even if we don’t realize it or don’t actively multi-task, our minds wander during a meeting, and our focus drifts. When participants aren’t fully engaged, it’s risky to assume that they’ve absorbed all the information. This can result in miscommunication and confusion.

Consider this: research by Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, shows that knowledge workers nowadays switch tasks every 46 seconds on average.

Imagine what this means for someone giving an important presentation or project update!

To avoid the trap of people’s minds wandering when you need them to be engaged, it’s crucial to involve everyone early in the process.

Experience tells us that when people get to use their vocal cords early, they’re more likely to speak up and contribute actively throughout the meeting.

Give participants the chance to form their opinions and share their thoughts on the meeting’s topic. In larger groups, like more than four people, it’s tough to have a meaningful and inclusive conversation.

Usually, a few confident voices dominate, and others slowly tune out.

So, consider regular breaks for the larger group to split into smaller clusters of two to four people. Provide them with a prompt or question to discuss, even if it’s just for a short 4-minute chat. Ask them about their thoughts regarding an update, presentation, or agenda item.

You’ll be surprised at the valuable insights and questions that arise, pushing the conversation forward.

It can be daring to facilitate a meeting for their colleagues and clients. So next, I’ll share four simple techniques to enhance inclusivity and engagement in a meeting.

Usually, a few confident voices dominate, and others slowly tune out.

4 Techniques to Increase Engagement

1. Early Participation

Encourage individuals to use their voices as early as possible.

At the beginning of the meeting, invite everyone to share one word or one sentence (depending on group size).

If the group is larger than eight, consider breaking it down into pairs and give them no more than 3-4 minutes to speak to each other.

2. Turn to your neighbour

We all know that not everyone feels comfortable speaking in front of a larger group, especially in professional settings.

To create a safe space, introduce “turn to your neighbor” moments.

This allows folks to sync up with their peers before addressing the entire group. Slowly expand the discussion groups as the meeting progresses. This tip is especially handy for online meetings, where subtle side conversations aren’t an option.

3. Think Time

In every group, there are ‘speak to thinkers’ and ‘think to speakers’.

Those who think out loud to make sense of what they want to say and those who need quiet time to make up their mind.

To cater to both, give participants some thinking time. Encourage them to jot down their thoughts, either privately or by using chat or sticky notes.

This approach not only leads to more thoughtful contributions during discussions but also accommodates those who need a moment to collect their thoughts.

4. Check-Out

A meeting isn’t complete without a proper wrap-up. Always end your meetings with a check-out activity. Ask everyone what they’re taking away from the meeting.

This reinforces action items, fosters a sense of belonging, and offers valuable insights for making future meetings even better.

My favorite checkout question is: What are you taking away in your heart and on your to-do list?

If time is short, you may ask for a one-word check-out or use the chat.

Always end your meetings with a check-out activity. Ask everyone what they’re taking away from the meeting.

Successful Meetings Without Agenda

Returning to our earlier discussion on the significance of purpose, it’s worth emphasizing that alignment on the ‘why’ of a meeting is more important than the need for a detailed agenda.

Sometimes, allowing a group to collaboratively construct the talking points on the spot can be quite invigorating. This approach grants them a sense of autonomy and ownership over how they invest their time and attention.

In this section, I’ll introduce you to two methodologies, Lean Coffee and Holacracy, which might serve as valuable inspirations for conducting meetings expertly — even in the absence of a predetermined agenda.

Another benefit of these two methodologies is that they engage all participants without the requirement of creating small group breakouts.

Remember, though, that the other two ‘P’s remain crucial: a clear purpose and invitations extended exclusively to participants who have defined roles and valuable contributions to make.

Lean Coffee

Here’s a simple approach that works wonders when you’re in a meeting with no clear agenda in sight.

Imagine your project team gathering for updates, but the topics to discuss haven’t been set in stone yet.

That’s where Lean Coffee steps in to save the day:

  • Collect Topics: Each person in the meeting writes down the topics they want to discuss. These topics can be anything related to the meeting’s purpose or goals.
  • Share Topics: Now, everyone shares their topics with the group, making sure they’re visible to all. You can do this with sticky notes, chat messages, or a digital board. These shared topics become your meeting agenda.
  • Vote: Each participant gets a few votes, usually around three. They use these votes to pick the topics they think are most important for discussion. You can do this with stickers, digital equivalents, or just by raising hands.
  • Prioritize: The topics with the most votes are the ones you tackle first.
  • Set Time Limits: Depending on how many priority topics you have and how long your meeting is, assign an average time for each topic.
  • Discuss: Start the timer and dive into the discussion of the first topic. Keep talking until you feel it’s been covered well or until the timer goes off. If time runs out, check with the group if they want to continue discussing, knowing it might affect other agenda items.
  • Move On: After one topic is done, move on to the next one with the most votes. Keep this pattern going until you’ve covered all the topics or until your meeting time is up.
  • Check out: To close the discussion, you can either summarize what you’ve discussed or, for a more enriching conclusion, ask everyone to share their main takeaways, as I mentioned earlier.

What’s great about Lean Coffee is that it lets you have meaningful discussions even when your meeting starts without a detailed plan.

It’s like having a flexible and dynamic conversation with your team or group, just like you would at a café with friends.


The Holacracy method is an intriguing alternative to Lean Coffee that shares a commitment to dynamic and purpose-driven meetings, but it brings its own distinctive approach to the table.

This structure (in Holacracy, they call this meeting a “Circle Meeting”) is most suitable for regular team meetings without a set agenda and is all about being responsive and action-oriented.

  • Sharing: Similar to Lean Coffee, nobody pre-defines what to discuss. Instead, each team member shares any tensions they’re feeling related to the team/project or subject of the meeting. It’s like the check-in I mentioned earlier or, taking turns to say what’s on your mind.
  • Clarifying Questions: After someone shares, others can ask questions to better understand the situation or tension. It’s helpful to ask what the person needs to solve the tension. This can be information, resources, decisions, or permission. Asking for what the person needs keeps them responsible and avoids meaningless complaining or finger-pointing.
  • Reactions and Suggestions: The group can react or offer suggestions. If someone said they were struggling with a project and needed access to information, others might suggest ideas to help.
  • Actions: The key is that instead of discussing things for a long time, you quickly decide on specific actions to take. These actions are like steps or tasks that someone will do to address the tension.
  • Closing: At the end of the meeting, you wrap up by summarizing the actions that were decided and who’s responsible for each one. It’s like making a to-do list for the coming week.
  • Repeat: The magic of Holacracy is that this meeting can happen every week, and it’s always focused on the current issues and opportunities team members are facing. So, it’s like an ongoing conversation that keeps things moving forward.

The Nutshell To Take Away

Facilitating a meeting is not about logistics and talking sticks.

It’s a leadership skill that demands attention to the 3 Ps: Purpose, People, and Process.

Without a clear purpose, a meeting is rudderless, aimlessly sailing towards more meetings.

By inviting the right people, those with a genuine role and stake in the agenda, we encourage meaningful participation and safeguard psychological safety.

And finally, a well-executed process, guided by thoughtful but simple activities (or methods such as Lean Coffee or Holacracy) ensures that all voices are heard, actions are clear, and the meeting serves its intended function.

So, if you find yourself stuck in an endless cycle of unproductive meetings, remember the three Ps and the techniques shared in this article.

Master these, and you’ll not only save everyone’s time but also cultivate an environment where meetings translate into meaningful action and impactful outcomes.

Let’s make meetings matter again.

Myriam Hadnes, with a PhD in Behavioural Economics and a Master’s in Sociology, blends academic insight with hands-on experience in group collaboration and facilitation. After having served as a strategic advisor in higher education, she launched her business Myriam also hosts the popular “” podcast, where she interviews global experts weekly. In 2020, Myriam started NeverDoneBefore (NDB), a global community of facilitators who share the ambition to inspire new trends in group collaboration. With a focus on innovative approaches and future trends, Myriam is reshaping the way we understand and apply facilitation. 

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