Five Best Ways To Facilitate a Heated Team Discussion

I knew the team meeting was going to be difficult for some of the members because of the item on the agenda. In the past when this topic came up there was great deal of anger and loud voices chiming in at the same time. Adding to this polarizing issue was conducting this on a virtual call. Not being in the same room, face to face was just going to add to the tension. How was this meeting going to end? Would we be able to come to a consensus without frustrating some of the team?

Team members arrived to the meeting armed and ready to share their past perspectives, not knowing what new data and details were about to be presented. The boxes filled in with smiling faces and chit chat could be heard about how everyone and their family were doing. What was about to happen was anyone’s guess.

The meeting began with all the presentations and then the “sticky” topic was ready to be shared. I took a deep breath and let it happen. Sparks began to fly and voices got louder and louder. A decision how to facilitate needed to be decided right away. What was the best approach to pull everyone together?

Five ways to facilitate a heated team discussion:

 1. Prepare Ahead Thoroughly

Any meeting where a leader needs to facilitate always requires preparation and gathering of the facts. If a topic on the agenda is going to be controversial, make sure to do your homework. What does that look like? Begin the research by understanding the history of the conflict. That background information can shed great light to how to approach the discussion.

2. Develop A Game Plan Strategy

To facilitate effectively, leaders need to design a clear game plan of how they will approach the discussion. Never join a team meeting without knowing these important pieces:

  • Who will and who will not share their perspectives in a respectful way.
  • Which team members might you need to connect with ahead of the meeting.
  • Which team member or members are the best choices to present the case.
  • How you will deal with derailers.

3. Keep A Flexible Mindset

Always approach a meeting that may contain “hot button” issues with an openminded headset. This is so important as it allows a leader to pivot if a discussion goes in a different direction than originally planned. Remind yourself that there may not be a perfect solution so compromise may be necessary to propel forward.

4. Let Everyone Say Their Peace

This point is probably the hardest one for some leaders if they want to limit the discussion. The thing is every team member who wants to share their opinion should be able to. In addition, encouraging different suggestions will lead to richer results. Here are some ground rules to creating a safe space to share:

  • One member at a time can speak while everyone else just listens.
  • No accusatory language is acceptable.
  • Each member pledges to understand different views and how they may contribute to the final outcome.

5. Pull The Team Together In The New Direction

Once everyone on the team who wants to speak has had a turn, it is time for the facilitator to wrap up the discussion and pull together a consensus. The leader can also offer their opinion on the direction forward, while integrating the alternatives shared. By the end of the discussion team members must feel they have been heard with respect. Finally the leader needs to thank everyone for their suggestions and courage in sharing them.

In my team meeting we pulled together and agreed to not let the past challenges define our future decision.

How have you facilitated a heated team discussion? What steps did you find helpful?

Related: What Does a Half-Full Leadership Strategy Look Like?