round table meeting

What Is a Round Table Meeting? [And How to Make The Most of It]

You’ve certainly had a good share of meetings by now and don’t need another fancy named one to add to the agony.

But what if there was a meeting that addresses common meeting problems such as unequal input, low engagement, and lack of actual profound discussion? 

There certainly is one and it’s named a round table meeting. But to reap all its benefits requires a good understanding of how this meeting works and how to properly run it.

This article will help you get up to speed. 

What’s A Round Table Meeting?

Round table meeting is a specific type of meeting that is structured to facilitate equal participation and input from all attendees despite their managerial status, level of expertise, or preparation.

The typical markers of a round table meeting are:

  • Equal time participation. Participants spend a more or less similar amount of time throughout the entire meeting to present and follow up on ideas. 
  • Fixed timeframe. Round table meetings don’t have a strict time frame in general, but the length of a meeting should be set before it starts and adhered to.
  • No managers. Although the round table meeting should have a mediator, managers, even if present, shouldn’t receive any specific preferences or influence during the meeting

Round table meetings are popular in academic, business, and diplomatic contexts, where they are used to brainstorm, problem-solve, negotiate, or share information in a non-hierarchical setting.

Unique Benefits Of Round Table Meetings

Facilitate Diverse Input

Round table meetings are designed to give everyone an equal opportunity to speak their mind. 

Often complex problems, whether in a business or academic setting, don’t have immediate solutions and require as many diverse perspectives and ideas as possible to come up with a best plan of action. 

Break Hierarchy

Common side effect of many meetings is that a supervisor’s or a manager’s voice is louder than anyone else’s. Often such format leads to other participants not eagerly sharing feedback and ideas in fear of being criticized or ignored. 

One of the main benefits of round table meetings is that, when done right, they help elicit more information from participants despite the gaps in corporate hierarchy.

Promote Deep Discussion

Plenty of meetings are not really meetings but are presentations in disguise with a fixed outcome. Managers often use meetings to present ideas and courses of action that were already formulated before the meeting even started. In such circumstances, gathering feedback from employees is more symbolic than actionable. 

Round table meetings are one of the best formats for free-flowing discussion when you need to gather a diverse set of opinions, brainstorm new ideas, and establish a course of action based on feedback gathered.

If you want to formulate a course of action that is built on a diverse set of opinions, or come up with truly original ideas, round table discussions are the way to go.

Promote Employee Networking and Collaboration

Due to their equal input format, round table meetings promote collaboration and employee networking by default. As long as you run these meetings right, every team member will have a chance to present their opinions and engage with other team members freely.

Even in an experienced team there’s a common issue of people operating in silos, either completing tasks individually or in very small groups, so round table meetings help employees get more comfortable with expressing their thoughts and learn more about their colleagues. 

How to Run a Round Table Meeting

1. Assign a Mediator

Round table meetings don’t recognize managers, but they absolutely need a mediator. A mediator’s goal is to ensure equal input from all participants as well as help people stay on track when the conversation goes too off-track. 

As such, a mediator can calculate how much time each participant has to present their ideas and a clock to let them know they are going overboard.

A portion of a meeting time can be allocated to freestyle conversation where participants exchange ideas after everyone has heard. But even in this case, an experienced mediator will facilitate feedback from shy members so that the loudest voices won’t override everyone. 

It’s best to invite a mediator who is not invested in a particular discussion, so that they could only focus on keeping the meeting balanced and within a structure. 

2. Establish Core Agenda

Although round-table meetings often are conducted to promote free flowing of ideas, often such format leads to off-topic discussion. That’s why it’s best to come up with a core agenda or the theme of a meeting and a list of topics that should be covered.

That way mediators can easily see when discussions trail off and gently bring the focus back on established topics. 

3. Explain The Format

Round table meetings is a format that just keeps getting popular, especially in a business setting, so most team members will be unfamiliar with their structure.

To avoid distraction or common issues with other meeting formats such as low engagement, make sure to explain how round meetings work at the beginning of it.

Don’t expect everyone to adhere to rules. Some people will be used to talking more while it’s the opposite with others, so take notes and gradually learn to unleash the full potential of round table sessions over time.  

Formats For Round Table Meetings

Brainstorming Round Table

Agenda: solve complex issue, brainstorm new ideas

Purpose: establish ways to solve a complex issue (for example, low support engagement, or low transparency within a team) or come up with new ideas (e.g. for a product feature, new scenario)

Decision-Making Round Table

Agenda: Make critical decisions, prioritize tasks

Purpose: Discuss and make decisions on pressing matters, prioritize tasks, and allocate resources effectively.

Innovation Round Table

Agenda: Foster creative thinking, explore innovative solutions

Purpose: Encourage creative brainstorming and exploration of innovative solutions for challenges or opportunities.

Team Building and Collaboration Round Table

Agenda: Strengthen team dynamics, improve collaboration

Purpose: Focus on building stronger team connections, improving communication, and enhancing collaboration among team members.

Good Luck With Your Next Round Table Meeting!

Round tables are a great way to foster collaboration, tackle complex issues, and spark innovative ideas. Hopefully, this article has provided you with valuable insights and structured formats to keep your round table meetings smooth and productive!

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