Facilitating Roundtable Meetings

May 1, 2015

Here are some tips for running a successful Roundtable event.

1.      Ensure you email those attending in advance so that they know the number of tables, which topics are being discussed at which and the order/timing of each of the topic sessions. This will allow those attending to carefully select the topics that most interest them and most importantly, to think about the topics and make notes on questions/issues they want to raise.

2.      Suggest that attendees bring materials ie numbers and other information. This is to help them engage in detail during the roundtable and they can decide what to share and withhold. BUT for them it means they can look at their real data and issues during the discussion and there and then engage with potential solutions to their own problems.

3.      Time management is important. One person i.e. the facilitator my end up doing all of this, but keeping an eye on the time and ensuring that you keep discussion moving to hit your end and transitions (to the next topics) are kept on track are critical both to ensuring all the topics are covered and to creating a sense of energy.

4.      Having someone taking notes is also important. This allows the participants to make minimal notes of their own and to focus on engaging in conversation. After a number of roundtables if no notes are taken you can reach the end of the session with little recall of the details of all that gold! The note taker can simply use a note pad, tablet or flipchart. The flipchart can be a useful way to focus attention on key issues being captured.

5.      Open the meeting with a joke to help people relax!

6.      Ask for each person to have name card on the table in front of them. This is about people engaging and networking so being able to speak to each person by name is nice. Also a name card is much easier to see/read than a small name badge. However, having a name badge does help during breaks!

7.      Quickly ask everyone to state their name, company (this puts things in context) and something fun about themselves i.e. I love baseball. It’s just a quick way to break the ice and getting people talking, engaged and comfortable.

8.      When you start each session be clear about what the topic is, exactly what the question is to be discussed and what would be a useful solution or structure to end with.

9.      If possible have 2 flipcharts. If the group is quiet or not participating, break the table into two groups. They can have the same question and so this can be a way to try to find new ideas or give each group two different questions. This is all about moving things along.

10.  If possible have an ally in the group. Someone you know that you can ask to think about the topics in advance and to speak up to help the group discussion.

11.  Ideally the round table should be open forum but if some members are not participating and you don’t want to single them out, you can start with one member and say ‘lets go clockwise around the table to share ideas on this’

12.  Be careful one person doesn’t dominate the discussion.

13.  If you have time at the end of the session, ask if there are any questions or issues that anyone would like to go back and discuss again. Note, that if you find a topic session ends quickly that’s fine if everyone things they can move on do so and then you can return to a topic that you found had a lot of energy.

14.  Thank everyone at the end for their participation and let them know that the summary notes will be emailed out to attendees so you need to have their email addresses.

Denis Leonard has a degree in construction engineering an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in quality management. Denis is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality, a Certified Quality Manager, Auditor, and Six Sigma Black Belt. He has been an Examiner for the Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners a Judge on the International Team Excellence Competition and a Lead Judge on the National Housing Quality Award. A former Professor of Quality at the University of Wisconsin, he has experience as a quality manager in the home building industry as well as construction engineer, site manager, and in training, auditing, and consulting with expertise in strategic and operational quality improvement initiatives. His work has achieved national quality, environmental, and safety management awards for clients. 

Denis is co-author of The Executive Guide to Understanding and Implementing the Baldrige Criteria: Improve Revenue and Create Organizational Excellence.