Meeting Facilitation Tools for Employee Advisory Groups

Creating Employee Advisory Groups (EAGs) is an effective strategy for giving employees a voice in decision-making while benefiting their ideas and creativity. EAGs empower employees and strengthen the relationship between management and staff. That fosters two-way feedback, meets the needs of younger generations of workers who want input into decision-making, and opens up a dialogue on various topics, from improving working conditions to developing new products. As is true for any group formation, ensuring this employee platform is effective is important because it benefits leadership skilled in meeting planning and management, employee coaching, and communication. Meeting facilitation tools can be critical in ensuring your organization gets the maximum benefits from Employee Advisory Groups.  

Turning Employee Advisory Groups into Real Assets

Establishing effective Employee Advisory Groups is a purposeful process that establishes a mission and goals, names a facilitator, and recruits people that are a good fit for the group's purpose. It is a powerful strategy for strengthening employee engagement. To achieve the mission and goals, the EAG needs guidance and assistance with staying on track with their discussions and meeting goals. 

Anyone named a facilitator has specific leadership skills because it takes someone who can plan, delegate, manage group discussions without discouraging input, and ensure all group members have a voice. The facilitator also ensures the group's discussions align with the group and organizational goals without discouraging new and creative ideas.   

Following are some crucial elements of a successful Employee Advisory Group.  

  • Purpose – The EAG has a well-defined purpose like meeting a new operational challenge, providing input on workplace safety or benefits, improving the inclusion of diverse employees, improving customer services, and offering product ideation, to name a few. Any plan developed is based on the purpose.  
  • Group engagement – Like any group, the members must stay engaged for the group to function effectively. The first recommendation is to orient the members and new members joining later. The orientation includes information about the group's mission and goals, how it integrates with the organization's mission and values, and a "big picture" focus on why the mission is important and how the work will impact the institution. To engage the group members, the EAG needs a planned schedule that has substance. Without an agenda with substance, the meeting is always at risk of getting off track or accomplishing very little.  

Another facet of group engagement is the need for activities that promote member interactions and add enjoyment. Remember that members are volunteers and are participating for many reasons. One is to meet other people who may have influence and eventually become an asset for moving along the career path. Providing opportunities for interactions on the social side gives people an opportunity to interact. 

  • Idea generation – The Employee Advisory Group is formed to give employees a voice, including generating new ideas and problem-solving approaches. It represents a "not business as usual" approach because the EAG members are encouraged to speak up with even off-the-wall ideas. If you wanted to continue doing business, you wouldn't bother with an EAG.  

The group leader's role includes finding ways to get all members to participate, and he/she can start by sharing relevant information about an organizational issue. This is followed by asking questions. For example, you want to know how to give the workforce a stronger voice on a day-to-day basis to maintain employee engagement. The questions would ask about ways to empower employees, how to reach all employees, and how management can design the most effective messaging through the choice of communication channels

Narrowing down the options is not always easy because people tend to "love" their ideas. Brainstorming remains an effective strategy, and facilitation tools can capture the flow of ideas. The facilitation tools can help with idea prioritization based on relevance to the problem, issue, project, and maximum impact. Questioning and mapping are two elements that greatly assist with narrowing a topic or idea.   

  • Reducing resistance – Any group will have members who resist ideas or struggle to get onboard sometimes for some reason. It can slow down the group's progress and adds negativity. Communication is the key to reducing resistance. Communicate group goals again, discuss the reasons for reluctance to support ideas with people not getting onboard, and give feedback. A Navy SEAL offers five tips in an interesting article on resistant employees.  
  1. Assess the person for their willingness to change 
  2. Frame the change as a change of behavior and not a change of self 
  3. Let the group provide anonymous, honest feedback about their perception of the person to motivate the person to change 
  4. Acknowledge to the person that some things are outside personal control, but they can choose to support the group 
  5. Be sure as a facilitator that your behavior sends the right message 
  • Develop opportunities to encourage participation – It's important to ensure that everyone in the group has opportunities to speak and contribute. You want all members to feel a part of the decision-making process, which makes them more likely to support the process and group effort. The facilitator should solicit ideas from different individuals and encourage members to communicate with each other because the information shared through familiar channels is effective. Some suggestions include using motivational exercises, asking questions to gauge thoughts, recognizing group successes, and generating discussion on a particular topic by asking for opinions.  
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Using Meeting Tools for High-Performing Advisory Groups 

Zippia researched survey data and found that the average employee spends a minimum of three hours weekly in meetings, and 30 percent spend five or more hours. Unproductive meetings cost businesses approximately $37 billion per year.  

When you form an Employee Advisory Group, you want it to be as efficient, productive, and high performing as possible. Remember that employees on the Employee Advisory Group are attending other meetings too and are expending the time and effort participating in the EAG because they want to make a positive impact on the organization through a stronger employee voice.  

Your leaders and staff are already working full-time to fulfill their job responsibilities. This puts pressure on the group facilitator too. Since the goal is to develop high-performing Employee Advisory Groups that increase employee engagement, the last thing you want is for meetings to fail. Failure could be due to: 

  • A poorly designed agenda  
  • Unclear goals and objectives 
  • The facilitator's lack of skills in asking for and receiving feedback, turning the meeting into a one-way lecture 
  • Recruiting the wrong people 
  • Not documenting meetings, so people forget what was said and what they are supposed to do. 
  • Meetings are not organized and lack direction. 
  • Members are allowed to duck honest problem-solving 
  • Lack of support from senior leadership

See the pattern? It really comes down to a lack of the leadership skills needed to facilitate meetings (and yes, make meetings stink less!) That's the basic premise of the book Meetings Suck. It's how meetings are run that lead to failure and not the meeting itself. Besides leadership training in managing meetings, what else can provide significant support for success? Answer: Meeting facilitation tools.  

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Data Collection Tools for Employee Advisory Groups 

There are different tools for data collection, but they all have the same goal. The tools for Employee Advisory Groups generate and collect data that yield information relevant to the group's goals. They include: 

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  • Employee Surveys  - Online and in-person employee surveys are among the most efficient data collection tools. By asking the members of the Employee Advisory Group a set of questions targeted to the group's goals, you gain valuable data to analyze. You can ask open-ended or close-ended questions. Knowing how to best develop the survey is part data science and part management skills. 
  • Focus Group – The focus group model for data collection is a great fit for the Employee Advisory Group. It, too, is a way to ask questions and can be online or in-person. The online approach enables efficient and economic inclusion of remote and onsite employees. The focus group can also be formed to support the work of the Employee Advisory Group by providing additional workforce and operational information needed for the EAG to stay on track and to give employees an even wider voice. 
  • Interview – An interview can provide data, but there is always caution. It's easy for bias to creep into the questions and leader feedback. There are best practices for structuring interviews without bias, including knowledge of things like gendered wording, unconscious bias, and standardization.   

Data Display Tools for Employee Advisory Groups 

Data display tools for Employee Advisory Groups simplify the process of recording data so it can be analyzed. They can be as simple or as complex as you desire. The software enables visualization of the data in a way that makes it easier to understand and assess and supports decision-making. Some data display tools include: 

  • Check Sheet: The check sheet is a chart with columns and rows that are named based on the purpose of the data collected. The cells are filled with checks, making it easy to tally responses. The EAG goals and current project drive the naming of the columns and rows. The check sheet applies to anything, i.e., developing new processes, product ideation, and inclusive designs, increasing inclusion, strengthening employee voice in collaborative decision-making, improving employee safety, etc. The data collected drives the checks. 
  • Pie Chart: A colored pie chart remains one of the most effective visuals because it divides a whole into sectors. You can quickly scan the chart and identify areas to address or improve. 
  • Table: A table is very similar to a check sheet in that it has columns and rows that displays information in tabular form. The difference is you input numbers into the cells, like the number of responses, instead of checks. 

Decision-Making Tools for Employee Advisory Groups 

As discussed early, the Employee Advisory Group will make decisions about which ideas to accept, priorities, and next steps to take. Getting consensus on brainstormed ideas and making objective decisions are EAG best practices. 

  • Multi-Voting table: the Multi-Voting table displays each member's prioritization of ideas generated during a brainstorming or other idea-generating activity. You can place the names across the top row and the ideas down the first column, followed by recording the priorities in each cell.  
  • Priority Matrix: The Priority Matrix helps EAG group members make unemotional objective decisions and avoid letting biases influence their decisions. The criteria for decision-making and the options, based on leadership-determined dimensions for each criterion, are included in the Priority Matrix. 
  • Pro-Con Analysis: Everyone has used this analytical approach of listing pros and cons. It works well because it is a simple tool for organizing thoughts without decision-making pressure. EAG members simply list the pros and cons for each issue. However, the results must be properly analyzed, which is where it gets more complex. 
  • Urgent/Important Matrix: Similar to the SWOT analysis in design, the Urgent/Important Matrix helps the group prioritize what is urgent, not urgent, important, and not important. It's an excellent tool for helping Employee Advisory Groups focus on what needs attention first.  

Idea Generation Tools for Employee Advisory Groups 

Every Employee Advisory Group will need to generate ideas. It can be random brainstorming, or the facilitator may want more structure in the process without discouraging new ideas. Some of the useful tools for generating and collecting ideas include the following. 

  • Brainstorming – Most people are familiar with brainstorming. This technique is popular because it encourages the free flow of ideas, opinions, facts, etc. The Brainstorming Tool enables listing all the ideas for each issue. 
  • Affinity Diagram – The Affinity Diagram is a tool that adds structure to generating and clustering ideas. It organizes ideas into their natural relationships for future discussion.  
  • Quiet Storming – A variation of the Brainstorming Tool, Quiet Storming is useful when group members are still not comfortable with each other and aren't comfortable expressing ideas or opinions. Instead of vocally offering ideas or opinions, each member writes them down. The ideas are then organized in some manner, like in an Affinity Diagram. 

Meeting Management Tools for Employee Advisory Groups

Management of the Employee Advisory Group requires leadership skills like trust building, delegating, and listening. Keeping the EAG on track to meeting goals is often not easy, but there are meeting tools that can provide critical guidance. 

  • Action Agenda – We previously discussed the importance of an agenda that serves as a roadmap. The Action Agenda tool can provide the roadmap and describe the tools and processes needed to ensure tasks are completed. 
  • Ground Rules: The Ground Rules tool documents what are considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. With transparent ground rules in place, the group leader can discuss infractions with an individual and help the group avoid failure.
  • Meeting Minutes: Recording accurate meeting results with the Meeting Minutes tool for Employee Advisory Groups are crucial to maintaining forward progress. The minutes will include things like decisions reached and agreements made, and they are also used to document necessary follow-up actions. People's memories are often faulty, so documenting who agreed to do what and when can prevent backsliding.  
  • Parking Lot: The clever name Parking Lot has meaning. Ideas, questions, information, and agreements that are not part of the current discussion topic are "parked" on a separate list for later review and possible discussion. People appreciate adhering to the agenda but also knowing their ideas and other information are not lost in the shuffle. 
  • Process Check: The Process Check tool is used to help an EAG meeting stay on track when it appears to be straying. A group facilitator or member uses targeted questions to guide people's assessment of whether it is on the right track or if some clarification is needed.    

Problem Solving Tools for Employee Advisory Groups 

Problem-solving is something your leaders do every day. The problem-solving tools for the Employee Advisory Groups are designed to promote more creative problem-solving that leads to the team's high performance.   

fishbone diagram
  • Fishbone Diagram – The Fishbone Diagram is a cause-and-effect diagram. It graphically represents and categorizes the causes of problems. The goal of this tool is to systematically sort out the results of the ideas generated by creating a display of the various factors that can affect a situation. The name comes from the graphical design, which begins by identifying a problem (fish head) and then adding various descriptive "bones." 
  • Five Whys – Documenting iterations of questions and answers striving to identify the cause and effect relationship of an underlying problem is the purpose of the Five Whys tool for Employee Advisory Groups. Asking "why" five times is usually all it takes to get to a root cause of a problem. 
  • Flow Chart Symbols – Flow chart symbols may not be thought of as tools, but they are. They are a set of symbols that help with accurately describing the flow of information, processes, data, decision-making, etc. 

Process Definition Tools for Employee Advisory Groups 

Processes are actions, steps, or operations to achieve a particular end. Documenting the process via a visual presentation makes it easier to grasp the flow of actions, steps, or operations.  

  • Process Maps – Process Maps use flow chart symbols specifically designed to indicate a particular type of action or step. The Process Map is used for training, problem-solving, process improvement, documentation, and education. It shows how work or other processes flow from end to end.  
  • Barrier Analysis – The Barrier Analysis is a great meeting facilitation tool for Employee Advisory Groups that helps the team members and the group objectively identify what could become barriers to achieving desired outcomes. It identifies the barriers, helps with analysis of the barriers, and identifies the actions to take to make change work. 
barrier analysis

Process Management Tools for Employee Advisory Groups 

Some of the most important meeting facilitation tools for Employee Advisory Groups that you can implement are the Process Management Tools. Why? They are a set of comprehensive tools addressing communication, change, activities, risks, and gaps.  

  • Management Matrix: The Communication Matrix is a team communication tool that keeps the right people informed of decisions and actions the EAG has agreed to. It is a chart that documents which should be informed of the various aspects of the project or process and some of the details as to how to inform them.  
  • Force Field Analysis: Understanding the need for change is different than understanding what is required to make change happen. Making change a reality requires helping people or the group understand what is required to make change happen. It is an action plan for increasing success factors and reducing the forces creating barriers to change. 
  • Gantt Chart: The Gantt Chart is a visual tool for displaying how various activities relate to each other in a timeline. It shows the beginning and end of different activities in horizontal bars on a chart, so you can see how the activities overlap as time passes, like weekly. This provides insights into how the process steps interact. 
  • Gap Analysis: Identifying gaps in performance is the purpose of the Gap Analysis tool. This tool is a chart that gives a precise description of gaps in process performance and solicits ideas for reducing the gap.  
  • Risk Analysis: As the name implies, the Risk Analysis tool identifies the risks from different perspectives, like the probability of a risk and the severity of the impact if the risk becomes a reality. High probability and high impact risks are addressed with prevention and mitigation strategies.

These are some of the key meeting facilitation tools, but there are also some meeting techniques you can use to energize a meeting, manage questions, and inject problem-solving methods.   

Selection and Customization of Meeting Facilitation Tools 

The Employee Advisory Group serves many purposes –employee engagement, problem solving, idea generation, risk management, and more. Engaging employees in various processes and project decision-making benefits employees and the organization as a whole. The key to success is leadership with the skills to facilitate problem identification which drives the group's goals, promotes inclusive non-judgmental idea generation, gains the participation of all group members, develops meeting agendas to keep the group focused at all times, and documents progress towards desired outcomes.  

The meeting facilitation tools described help organize and manage a complex process. The list just provided describes the tools, but you have to know the best tools to use for your EAG and how to maximize their impact through quality, relevant development, and utilization. It's easy to get started on the wrong foot or to get off track, and that can harm your efforts to improve employee engagement.  

An IRI Consultants management consultant can help you identify leadership training needs and the selection, design, and/or implementation of the meeting facilitation tools for Employee Advisory Groups that are the best fit for your organization. In the proactive era of employee relations, minimizing the risk of failure is critical.  

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