SEL for School Leaders: 5 Strategies for Meeting Design & Facilitation (Part 2 of 3)

This is part of our series on supporting the capacity of leaders to foster the psychological safety and well-being of staff, in partnership with leaders in Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Check out Part 1 on building emotional capacity and the full deck of strategies.

Shifting meetings online can seem straightforward: You schedule a meeting, you have an agenda, you go through the action items and you take care of the things. But meetings also play a role in your school culture. For your school to run effectively, the staff has to feel good. They need to feel heard, like they belong and like they’re part of something meaningful. How you run your meetings has an impact on how your people feel.

That’s why, to support school leaders in our district, we’re illustrating some adaptations of face-to-face meeting strategies for the virtual environment, and sharing those strategies in our leadership inspiration deck. We want to encourage leaders to think about how the skills you’ve already developed can be applied now to address the needs of your team members at this moment. 

In the post below, you’ll find five strategies for designing and facilitating meetings to keep your staff feeling supported and connected during the pandemic and beyond.

–– Dr. Paulette France, Dr. Janene Gorham, and Ms. Anna Surratt, Office of Professional Growth and Innovation, Virginia Beach City Public Schools


Communication Cascades

When staff members are working remotely, it becomes even more important for leaders to focus on clear communication, so the message that is shared is consistent and staff is informed and engaged. A communication cascade strategy can help you achieve that.

Spend the last 15 minutes of the meeting determining what information needs to be shared and with whom. Decide who will share what, so that information cascades consistently and accurately through an organization. Use a virtual whiteboard to write the message so everyone is clear on what needs to be shared. (Adapted from The Science to Cascading Messages.) 

More resources: 

Read the articles Leveraging Cascades to Improve your Communications Plan and  9 Tips for an Effective Communication Cascade Strategy. Learn how to make your communication cascades more effective by finding out what dropoff points to avoid.

Human-Centered Meeting Design

Ensure online meetings are effective and productive through meeting design that intentionally builds community, supports connection and facilitates engagement. Share new information prior to the meeting to allow processing and time and ensure that meeting time focuses on interaction, not information sharing. 

Strategies for human-centered meetings include the following:

  • Start with a check-in.
  • Use embedded polls for feedback.
  • Give time to process new information using breakout rooms for small group discussion.
  • Brainstorm using virtual whiteboards or shared documents.

More Resources: 

Check out this Harvard Business Review article, What It Takes to Run a Great Virtual Meeting, or learn how to avoid pitfalls in the podcast episode, The Five Dysfunctions of a Virtual Team.


Encourage staff autonomy through the use of flexible microstructures, such as 1-2-4-All

Microstructures can help define terms for collaboration, redistribute facilitative power and encourage safe experimentation. Common microstructures include managed discussions, status reports and brainstorming sessions.

For example, you might spark creative flow by emailing staff ahead of a meeting with a challenge posed as a question, “How do we provide a meaningful closure for the school year given the constraints of virtual learning?” Then, you can build on that prep work with the  1-2-4-All microstructure ending in a group discussion. 

More Resources: 

Find ideas in the following resources: Design of Liberated Virtual Meetings, Menu of Liberating Structures and Microstructures & Design Elements.

7Ps Framework

As leaders, we know that the unexpected is bound to happen. When it does, it’s important to have a framework for meetings that maintains a sense of consistency, purpose and process. Try the 7Ps framework, in which your team works through the purpose, product, people, process, pitfalls, prep and practical concerns. 

As you plan a staff meeting around a challenging topic, such as reentry expectations, roles and responsibilities, you might help focus your team by posting the 7Ps visibly and returning to them throughout the meeting.

More Resources:

Find ideas for using design thinking to plan a better meeting in this article from Harvard Business Review.

Play fewer chips

The ever-changing times in which we find ourselves have created added pressure to make tough decisions, and make them fast. Tight deadlines and large-scale decisions create the potential to suppress the voices and ideas of the people involved in and impacted by the decisions. 

Slow the decision-making process down and liberate the voices of those involved by conducting an experiment with your approach to meetings: Play Fewer Chips. In this exercise, you assign yourself a certain number of “chips” at the start of the meeting, each representing one time you will speak. You might even share with your staff ahead of time that you have a set number of chips and will be limiting your own speaking time.

By making a conscious effort to step back, you can make sure you are not accidentally diminishing the voices and ideas of other team members during decision making. 

More resources:

Learn about the difference between a multiplier and a diminisher in this blog post, and read this article to recognize signs of being an “accidental diminisher.”