The Two People Every Meeting Needs

Designating roles within a meeting will keep everyone clear on how they are supposed to contribute, and make them feel that the meeting is worth their time. It also helps identify next steps that need to be taken after the meeting to keep making progress.

Meetings, like any type of work, require team members to carry out specific roles in order to produce successful and effective results. By adopting the following roles, we’ve seen unruly meetings become productive and meaningful for all participants involved. Try introducing them at your next meeting, and see how quickly other teams adapt this framework.

How to Designate Meeting Roles

  1. Explain the role of the Facilitator. The Facilitator has three main tasks:
    • Keep the session on topic. They manage the meeting agenda and cut off digressions so that the meeting stays on schedule.
    • Get input from participants. They don’t let a few people dominate the meeting (and remember, the Facilitator shouldn’t dominate the meeting, either). And to prevent the same people from having the first and last word, they randomize the order in which they ask for clarifying questions and reactions.
    • Ensure only one person speaks at a time. To make everyone more mindful of this habit, they use the phrase, “‘no cross talk” to discourage participants from speaking over one another. This keeps unproductive conversation at bay and moves the session forward.
  2. Explain the role of the Scribe. The Scribe also has three main tasks:
    • Capture meeting output. It’s not necessary to have a transcript or even “minutes”—they simply distill the meeting proposals and who is responsible for following up on each.
    • Distribute meeting summaries. They send the meeting output to everyone who attended, as well as people who could not attend but need to be informed about the meeting’s results. This also helps cap the number of people in meetings—if people feel confident they’ll be informed, they won’t feel compelled to go to a meeting just to be present.
    • Schedule next meetings. They follow up quickly to maintain momentum and complete assigned tasks.
  3. Optional: Explain the role of the Devil’s Advocate. If you’re in a meeting where an important decision needs to be made, you may also find it useful to appoint one person to:
    • Take the contrarian view. Too often, emphasis is placed on coming to a decision that causes the least amount of friction amongst the team, compromising the original problem. The Devil’s Advocate can steer the conversation back and address potential problems in the plan.
    • Criticize in good faith. They must refrain from cynicism, jokes, or insulting the original idea, and instead focus on genuine concerns with the current plan.
  4. Finally, vote to determine who will take on each role. Once everyone understands what is required of each role, vote—by show of hands or by secret ballot if preferred—who should take on each role for the next quarter. If that feels like too much of a commitment, rotating the roles every six weeks works as well.
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