If you open a meeting with icebreakers, end with these wrap-up equivalents for better closure
I learned last year that many people are interested in actively using icebreakers to kickstart meetings. I couldn’t believe the positive response I received when I wrote about them last year, and again a few months ago.
Opening workshops and sessions intentionally can go a long way in setting the stage for the work ahead, so when Janice Harayda asked me if I had related suggestions for thoughtful meeting-closers, I was excited to dig into my toolkit and share my favorite methods for ending a workshop or meeting with purpose.
If you’re looking for a more meaningful and actionable way to wrap up meetings, take a look at these 5 options for closing your next session. They’re organized based on the scenarios meeting leaders and facilitators often find themselves in, with practical advice for each.
Closers to end your meetings with:
1. When you need everyone to align while they’re still in the room rather than hashing out important details via a lengthy email thread
- How to wrap up: Use the Horizons method at the end of a strategic workshop, Design Sprint or many-hour/day meeting as a way to organize what will happen next, and who will be responsible for doing it by when. Here’s a detailed description of how to run the exercise.
- Why it works: This activity invites the entire group to identify and contribute next steps, action items and critical tasks. It also asks individuals to self-assign ownership over their tasks. By collaborating and allowing group members to decide which action items they’d like to champion, there’s a lot more buy-in which leads to less work falling through the cracks.
2. When you want to help people feel more included and connected to the work
- How to wrap up: After you clearly state the next steps, leave the door open for additional thoughts and conversation. I like to tell teams, “Next we’re going to do X, Y and Z, but if you have other thoughts please email me with your ideas or action items when you think of them.”
- Why it works: In contrast to the Horizons method (which is more of an in-the-moment, tactical exercise), this option makes next steps feel more like an open conversation that creates space for honest input and continued dialogue. This is important because things get missed and people get tired after an intense day of meeting, but the offer to let people follow up leaves the door open to other ideas and critical inputs that didn’t come up in the moment.
3. When you need specific input on how to make an initiative / launch / roll out successful among key constituents
- How to wrap up: After sharing next steps, ask participants to anonymously submit suggestions for making the initiative successful (people are more honest when they share anonymously, which will help you get to the truth of the circumstances much faster). Hand out sticky notes and have them answer questions like: “What’s going to be important to consider as we roll out the plan?” “What questions do you think we should anticipate?” “What will people need to know or feel for this to be a success?” “What blockers might we need to navigate?”
- Why it works: Every organization has its own unique culture, and along with that come hidden challenges and barriers to creating momentum around something new. A lot of this knowledge tends to be institutional, so I love asking teams for these inputs because it helps me anticipate what rolling out a plan will actually look like, and how to get ahead of obstacles. The purpose of this exercise is less about tactical next steps and more about the things that can make or break whether the tactics succeed (what will people need to feel in order to achieve success, how do they want the plan to be shared with them, who should share it, what might they be worried about, etc). This approach puts the focus on the actual humans who will be impacted by the work, and whose attitude and beliefs are critical to consider in order to be successful. Note: Once you have the inputs, it’s the facilitator’s job to synthesize and share the themes and blockers for the team to consider.
4. When you want to check in with where the group has landed and see how people are feeling
- How to wrap up: Simply ask each person to reflect on how they’re feeling as you close out. I like to use this prompt in partnership with this icebreaker at the start of the session, “In one word, how do you want to feel at the end of our time together?” (More on icebreaker prompts/inspo here.)
- Why it works: It brings the session full circle and helps us evaluate if we got where we wanted to be. After intense work, it can be a really nice touchpoint to end on a human note and give folks a moment to check in. It also holds me accountable as the facilitator — if the humans in the room reached the desired state, it means I’ve done my job well. If not, it gives us a chance to identify where more work or clarity might be needed. (Leave room to have a bit of discussion here, if necessary.)
5. When you want people to commit to next steps and stay accountable
- How to wrap up: This idea was shared with me by Sonia Soltani and I really love it: “Have participants select a bite-sized commitment they are making based on the information/activities shared during the meeting or training. They can do this independently or share out in groups.”
- Why it works: I love Sonia’s idea because it asks people to make a declaration in front of their peers of what they’ll do next. It’s so important to connect the work to what’s ahead and keep the momentum going, which is exactly what this closing prompt does. Sonia recommends capturing these declarations either in writing or via a virtual whiteboard. In some instances, she even suggests having folks pair up to “share their commitment in pairs. Then, they exchange information with their partner and become “accountability buddies” to check in on progress even after the workshop ends. This added step not only helps with accountability, but also hopefully fosters a sense of support between the partners. This is a great option for team-based work, or when you have the chance to pair people up.
We often spend time opening our meetings with intention, but don’t extend this energy toward wrapping up. When we miss this step, our work feels incomplete. This is especially true after intense sessions when the group dissolves before truly closing the arc of the workshop. The result? A lack of clarity and alignment that leaves things uncomfortably open-ended.
To keep the work moving forward, add this element of closure to your next session. Not only will it foster a sense of completeness and accomplishment, but it will help maintain the momentum to keep the initiative going in the right direction.
Clap me some love if you plan to try this, and definitely add your own suggestions to this list by commenting below. I love learning from fellow facilitators!