How To Run A Meeting That Doesn’t Suck | Part 5: You Have To Know How To Generate Valuable Friction*

This is part five of a seven part series. Read Part One Here. Read Part Two Here. Read Part Three Here. Read Part Four Here.

Almost everyone I meet seems to think they know how to run a meeting. The startup founders I coach are convinced that their ability to guide a process is better than almost anyone else. The coaches I work with are no different, they feel their ability to listen and reflect makes them master facilitators. And yet consistently when I sit in on a meeting that one of my clients runs, I have to bite my tongue to hold back my suggestions and objections.


This is despite the fact that there are numerous guides, books, and outlines for how to run meetings. The real problem is that running a meeting is less about the mechanics (timing, agendas, talking sticks, conches, wands, etc) and more about the ability to be with people while also leading them with grace to a place THEY want to go.

So after running thousands of meetings and sitting through even more, here’s the skills you actually need to be successful.


You Have To Know How To Generate Valuable Friction*


The other side of people is their tendency to go along to get along. Most of the magic in meeting isn’t in coming to quick and easy agreement but by spurring people to think more deeply about the challenges, problems, and questions they’ve brought.

Which means as a facilitator you need to know how to create the kind of friction and challenge that leads to deeper thinking, better solutions, and more creative ideas.

To do this you have to be ok with conflict and the unknown, because those two things are what most teams and people like to avoid.

Here are some questions to consider: – Where does the group or person come to agreement too quickly? – What solutions are being overused? – What considerations are being avoided? – Where are people resigned to how things are? – What limitations have people accepted as unchangeable which are in fact changeable? – Where does possibility go to die on the team? In this person’s life?

Once you identify an area where a lack of conflict is limiting growth you can start to generate some good healthy conflict. The key to healthy conflict is you need both safety and challenge.

If you’ve done your work on the previous four points you’ve likely already created safety though it’s important to remember to make sure people are still being heard, that breakdowns are handled with grace, and that the issues are seen as issues and not personal battles to be fought in a public arena.

Then to create challenge you need to ask people to look at their underlying assumptions, to ask people to look beyond the most obvious solutions, and demand that people back up what they’re saying with evidence or at the very least some good reasoning.

Most facilitators only excavate the first layer of questions of possibility. The best facilitators encourage people to look at challenges from multiple perspectives, consider more creative options, and really look at the impact each option will have on the people involved.

To create challenge you have to learn to ask deeper questions and push people to think of more possible solutions:

Instead of asking – How could I do a better job of marketing my new course? Ask – What are all the ways I could market my new course?

Instead of asking – What offering do you think I/we should create next? Ask – What evidence do we have that indicates what our customers are looking for?

Instead of asking – Do you think we should hire a new assistant? Ask – What gaps are there in our current process? Could we cover these gaps with our current resources? What kind of personality is missing on our team? What will the real costs of hiring an assistant be? What are the costs of not having an assistant?

Of course creating challenges is more art than science. It requires a good facilitator to understand the context of the conversation, the assumptions that are hidden, and the possibilities that may exist. Once you have this sense of your group you will be able to challenge the group as a whole and each member of that group to do the hard work of thinking about the challenges that face them.

The key thing to remember is that friction is GOOD! so long as it pushes people to think beyond their comfort zone and deal with any elephants trying to hide behind a vague powerpoint slide or bullet point on a business plan.

This is part five of a seven part series. Read Part One Here. Read Part Two Here. Read Part Three Here. Read Part Four Here.

Check back in next week as we cover part six which is about preparing and following up.

  • Many of the ideas in this section are loosely based on ideas for creating debates from the book Multipliers.