University of Hawaii Manoa

UH Mānoa Office of the Ombuds

Designing and Facilitating Effective Meetings

How is a meeting like an airplane?  They both need to be carefully designed to get you where you want to go.

The purpose of a most meetings is to move a group of people from one place to another in a safe and preferably enjoyable fashion without losing anyone along the way.  However, certain critical elements need to be in place before take off to ensure a successful trip and a safe landing.  Sitting in a poorly designed and/or poorly facilitated meeting is like sitting in a rickety airplane with an unclear destination - Both are very frustrating and a big waste of time.

Would you board a plane under the following conditions?

  • The destination is described as “somewhere in the general vicinity of Boston.”
  • The passengers are not sure why they are on this plane.
  • The aircraft does not have effective radar for direction finding.
  • The aircraft does not have mechanisms for dealing with unexpected turbulence.
  • The flight crewmembers are not clear about their respective roles and responsibilities.
  • There may not be enough fuel to land the plane. If you’re not sure you would get on a plane under these conditions, good! You may also want to create a higher standard for the meetings you call and/or participate it.


(Adapted from “Designing and Facilitating Effective Meetings” by Laurie McCann.
University of California, Santa Cruz.  Used with permission.)


Use Your OARRs

Outcomes:  Be clear about what you want to accomplish in the meeting. What specific, measurable results need to be in hand before you walk out the door?  “If you don’t know where you’re going, any map will do!”  Don’t let goals substitute for outcomes.
Agenda:  Divide agenda items into short discussions/reports and longer conversations/dialogues.  Assign time limits to each item.  If you go over the time allowed for a certain item, check with the group about whether to stay with the current item or move on.  Review the agenda with the whole group before the meeting begins.

Roles & Responsibilities:  Typical roles are facilitator, recorder, timekeeper, leader and participants.  An impartial facilitator is optimal because his/her presence allows all members of the group to participate fully.  If you don’t have an impartial facilitator, consider rotating the facilitator role among several people.  When possible have the recorder use flip charts to track key ideas, decisions and outcomes; and compile notes (not formal minutes) at the end for a functional meeting record.

Rules:  Simple agreements to help make the meeting productive.  Typical ground rules include:  Start and end on time, hold one conversation at a time, honor diverse points of view, don’t interrupt, speak openly and honestly, everyone participates.  Post and review agreements at the beginning of the meeting; revise as appropriate.


(This portion adapted by University of California at Santa Cruz
with permission from David Sibbet,


Follow Thru

Follow thru may be most important part of meetings and is often neglected.  To avoid this:

  • Be sure to review decisions made or any key outcomes.
  • Have an idea of what the next steps will be (who will do what and by when).
  • Evaluate what went well and what could have been better.