Facilitate or Lead a Meeting? | Gary Rush Facilitation PDF Print E-mail

August 2002


gary rush facilitation

Facilitate or Lead a Meeting? | Gary Rush Facilitation


One question that I am frequently asked is, "Should I lead the meeting, facilitate the meeting, or get someone else to facilitate the meeting?" The answer is not obvious to the person asking the question. Here are some thoughts to help you decide when scheduling your meetings or workshops. I'll first define the difference between a facilitator and a meeting leader.

Facilitator: A person whose job is to enable and make it possible for a group of people to communicate and accomplish their task. Facilitators are neutral relative to content, but in charge of the process. A facilitator is responsible for the context.

Meeting Leader: A person who calls a meeting, runs the meeting (controls the process), and contributes content. This may be for information sharing or to accomplish a task.


First of all, there is no "right" answer. There are a number of considerations so that your decision is well thought out. The first consideration is what type of meeting is this. Three categories of meetings include:


  • Information-Sharing

  • Task-Related Directive

  • Task-Related Consultative

Each type suggests a different answer:


Information-sharing meetings work best with a meeting leader. These types of meetings include staff meetings and classes.

Task-related meetings, you need to decide if directive (i.e., you lead the meeting) or consultative (i.e., you or someone else facilitates the meeting) is the most effective form. To decide between directive or consultative, consider the following:


  • Your level of knowledge of the subject.

  • Your role and responsibilities regarding the outcome.

  • Level of conflict between the attendees or with the subject.


Level of Knowledge

The more you know about a subject, the more you will contribute and not be neutral. If you know a lot and want to add, calling a facilitator helps in that the facilitator is neutral and manages the process and documenting while you contribute. If you know very little, you are likely to be "neutral" out of lack of knowledge. You can facilitate rather than lead. Lack of knowledge about the subject allows you to facilitate. Knowledge about the subject requires you to decide to facilitate or lead and that decision is based on level of conflict or you role.


Your Role

If your role is to get the group to reach a decision, you are largely facilitating anyway - so facilitate the meeting. If your role includes responsibility for the quality or the direction of the decision, you need to contribute and either lead the meeting or bring in someone to facilitate the meeting. That decision would be based on level of conflict.


Level of Conflict

The level of conflict is a good gauge as to whether you need a facilitator. The greater the conflict, the more value a neutral facilitator adds. Conflict generally comes with a loss of listening - participants don't listen to those with whom they disagree. When conflict is between the attendees or with the subject, a facilitator will make a difference and can make the meeting successful. A leader will either be part of the problem or exacerbate the problem.


Decision - Summarized

If the meeting is information-sharing, lead the meeting. If the meeting is task-related, then:


  • You facilitate if:

    • You know very little about the subject.

    • Your role is to get the group to decide.


  • Bring in a neutral facilitator if:

    • You know a lot about the subject and want equal input from all attendees.

    • There is conflict between the attendees or with the subject.

    • Your role is to get the group to decide and you have responsibility for the direction or quality of the decision.


  • You can lead the meeting if:

    • There is very little conflict and you have responsibility for the direction or quality of the decision.




The issues you face after the decision are: was it the "right" decision and will the group accept it. If you chose incorrectly (i.e., lead when you need a facilitator) you can live with the decision or stop the meeting and reset the roles. To get the group to accept the decision, set the expectations at the start. Be clear what your role is and why. Stick to your role and remind the group, if they try to change it.




Task-related meetings are more successful when facilitated. If conflict is very low, leading the meeting works fine. Be certain to set clear expectations at the start of the meeting - then stick to them. That's the best way to ensure success.logo


Note: The skills of the facilitator and the leader are the same. Using facilitation skills - whether you lead or facilitate - leads to better meetings. Learning to facilitate enhances your value as an employee. All companies need effective leaders. Facilitators are effective leaders. Practice your leadership skills by using facilitation skills - whether you are the meeting leader or the facilitator.