Why moderation makes sense for your project meetings
Yet another meeting?!? This is what some team members scream internally when they are drowning in work, meetings mean a lot of hot air but few results, or a bad working atmosphere is in the way of good collaboration. And this is where a moderator comes into play. With very limited resources, moderation can do a lot for your project meetings:
- provide orientation regarding time, objective, and topics of the meeting,
- contribute to an undisturbed work flow by providing the materials required,
- ensure that everyone can contribute their remarks and questions and remains on schedule,
- reduce the team’s workload, because team members can focus on contents,
- promote appreciative communication,
- make sure that results are recorded, shared with everyone, and that everybody understands what they have to do.
These minimum standards are not trivial, but they often get lost in everyday work life.
What moderation is (not)
A moderator’s task is to offer structured and transparent guidance through a meeting, including thorough preparation and follow-up work. These tasks can also be assigned to different people. If there is a project assistant, this person can, for example, routinely be put in charge of preparation logistics and meeting minutes.
Content-related impulses by the moderator can be helpful indeed. However, the task of a moderator is NOT to present him-/herself in a favourable light, to manipulate the group, or to enforce specific results.
How to find a moderator for your work group in your team or among your colleagues
For regular, internal meetings with little potential for conflicts (15 – 20 people max), you will often find people with moderation skills in your team. The task can also rotate over the course of the project.
- In scientific and environment-related projects, the project lead is usually the one to happily take on the task of moderation. Especially in the beginning, this approach can make sense. Because in this way, the project lead serves as a role model for the culture of communication and can also define the framework content-wise.
- In regular, flat-hierarchy work meetings which always follow the same pattern (e.g. PhD candidate or postdoc groups), it can also make sense to assign the moderator’s role on a rotational basis. This will ensure that everybody contributes to successful meetings by taking turns at the taking of meeting minutes, time management, and organisation. This will also allow team members to gain moderation experience.
- In case of very heated debates, it might be helpful if the internal moderator has undergone further moderation training.
- Moderation is always easier when the moderator does not have too much of a personal interest in the outcome of the debate. As an example, think about a debate on the structure of your own PhD thesis: It would be better for someone else to serve as the moderator.
- Some institutions have an internal pool of moderators. It allows you to ask qualified colleagues who are not personally involved to support individual work meetings.
Make better use of your potential!
Generally speaking, we can only recommend a deeper look into the wide range of opportunities that moderation can provide to every scientific and environment-related project: Make a conscious decision to use a moderator to guide the conversation in a suitable and structured manner. Do not let your meetings develop in whatever way they want.
How to prepare and use internal moderation
Before you get started with preparations, determine the objectives of your work meeting together with your team. Would you like to exchange thoughts on content? Do you need new ideas? Is there something specific requiring a decision or organisational work? What is the time frame for the meeting?
Next, you can assign the moderation-related tasks: Who is in charge of organisation? Who takes care of the content- and method-related preparation of the meeting? Whose task is it to record the results? These tasks can, but do not necessarily have to be done by one single person.
- Determine demand regarding the room, technical equipment (projector, computer, clock), material, catering requirements (drinks, …), and organise what is necessary.
- Ask the people in charge (project lead / team?) for input and write the agenda.
- Send invitation and agenda out in due time, or provide them on a central server.
- Prepare the room in due time before the meeting.
Make sure the following elements are noted as standard points on every single agenda, so that you do not forget about them:
- person taking the minutes
- place & time of the meeting
- break times
- important results / points of debate
- next steps / things to do
- maybe next moderator (if the task is assigned on a rotational basis)
Methods / content
The method is not an end in itself, but its objective always is to generate the outcome needed by the team. So think about the following points beforehand:
- What is the defined objective of the meeting and which methods would be suitable here?
- How and by whom are results to be recorded? (Meeting minutes are taken, photographic record of pin boards is made, content of flip charts is written down afterwards, …)
- What is needed in terms of material? (Pin board, moderation cards, big pens, pins for pin boards, camera to take pictures, projector & laptop, …)
Next, we will list methods which, based on our experience, have become the “traditional choices” for internal work meetings; you might already be using them yourself. But maybe the advice on how to use them can provide you with some inspiration for the budget-friendly and easy optimisation of these methods.
Area of application
This method is suitable for the pooling of ideas or knowledge.
How to use it
Ideas or remarks are called out by participants and written down on a flip chart or pin board by the moderator. Alternatively, participants can also take 5 to 10 minutes to write their points on moderation cards and put those on a pin board (one topic per card because of legibility). The second approach takes a bit longer, but it increases topic diversity. Groups tend to stick to the content of the first terms called out, so they are not making full use of their creative potential. Another advantage is that you can then cluster the content items; and it allows you to include less vocal participants.
Moderation check list
- Come up with a suitable initial question.
- Gather the participants’ points on a flip chart or pin board, so that they are well visible.
- Archive the contributions later on, and make them accessible to everyone in the form of written meeting minutes or a photographic record.
Area of application
This method is suitable for bringing everyone to the same level of knowledge or for underlining your own field of work in the project.
How to use it
Throughout the meeting, the moderator makes sure everybody remains on schedule and is in charge of structuring questions (by, e.g., keeping a list of speakers ensuring that everyone gets to voice their opinion). If the moderator is confident enough to use the time slot between different presentations to develop a common thread connecting them, this is very beneficial to the audience’s attention. It is important to agree on the time frame available and the presentation’s objective with presenters (and maybe superiors) beforehand. To lay the groundwork for a fruitful debate, it can also make sense to establish certain standards presenters have to respect, e.g.: a summary of core statements and central questions for the debate on the last slide. To achieve transparency and to record the results, the moderator should take notes of the most important points in the debate and ask for confirmation that everything has been noted down in the end.
Moderation check list
- Come to an agreement with presenters and your superiors: How much time is available / needed? What is the presentation’s objective? What type of debate are you aiming for?
- Will you make sure everybody stays on schedule? (Bring a clock!)
- During the debate, make sure everyone gets to contribute in the right order (based on the list of speakers); do not simply leave the floor to the loudest person.
- Remember to summarise the most important points of the debate on a flip chart.
- Have a final round of contributions for the others to either confirm or add more details to the information you visualised.
Area of application
A debate allows for a direct, content-focused exchange of thoughts. It is always a helpful method for teams wanting to develop a common point of view.
Brief debates about a specific question are often a good starting point; afterwards, specific plans can be made and decisions taken.
How to use it
Depending on the debate’s objective, it can make sense to either note down every mentioned point right away (e.g. on a flip chart) or to use targeted questions to support the group in establishing the facts.
Moderation check list
- Beforehand, think about the outcomes you are aiming for. Are there any? If so, which ones? (Do you want to discuss the pros and cons of a certain approach? Do you want to promote the exchange of thoughts? Is it important for everybody to contribute?)
- Throughout the meeting, keep asking yourself if the debate is supporting the objectives. When you get a feeling that the debate is being sidetracked by points not supporting the objectives, ask the group if they still want to continue debating these points now or if that should be done later.
- Maybe you can write important remarks not supporting the objectives down anyway; put them on an extra flip chart labelled “topics for future debates”. This way, you will prevent your participants from getting stuck in one topic, unable to continue with a constructive dialogue.
- Document the debate’s results clearly visible to everyone.
- Wrap the debate up on time and summarise it in the end, using these notes as support. Then, you can introduce the next point.
Paraphrasing as a conversation technique – clarification and appreciation, all in one
“Thought is not said.
Said is not heard.
Heard is not understood.
Understood is not agreed. (…)”
This quote shows: In the process of communication, words that seem to be clear do not guarantee “mutual understanding”. Heated debates sometimes require a moderator’s de-escalating intervention. One possible way is to summarise oral contributions in your own words (paraphrasing). In this way, you do not only uncover things that might be unclear, but you also show special appreciation for the contribution in question. As a moderator, you can ask questions such as these: So your point is (summarise what was said in your own words), did I get that right?
Contribution: To be quite honest, people here always blame someone else and eventually, nothing gets done.
Moderation: So your point is that, in your opinion, people don’t meet their own responsibilities, did I get that right?
Follow-up work after the work meeting
Even extremely productive work meetings do not deliver long-term success, if central findings are not processed and then shared with everyone afterwards. After the end of the meeting, the moderator’s tasks include:
- recording of results, on site or soon afterwards, using, e.g., notes, flip chart copies, pin board photographs;
- writing of the meeting minutes (make sure to include next steps and remaining open questions);
- sharing of the meeting minutes and maybe asking for comments / corrections.
In some situations, internal moderation is not recommended. Examples are:
- Unfortunate role overlaps: For example, if you are a moderator, an expert, and a pleading party all at once in a meeting with cooperation partners. This can be overwhelming for you or make participants question your credibility.
- Blocks and conflicts: For example during times when a team is unable of making progress alone and new, external impulses are helpful. Sometimes, groups struggle with conflicts and difficult relations; in these cases, approaches from mediation work better.
- Large workload: For example, if you are putting a lot of effort into the organisation of an international meeting, and expectations are high.
Under such circumstances, external moderation can make sense and reduce your workload.
Do you need external moderation?
Of course, we are happy to counsel you on this topic. We are also available as seasoned moderators. The topic “External moderation – when and why?” will soon be featured in its own blog post. Until then: Have a successful time moderating your meetings! We would love to hear about your thoughts on and experiences with our tips, so please feel free to leave a comment.