Seating arrangements are often left up to chance; however, where participants sit can influence overall meeting effectiveness.
How can seating positively influence your meeting outcome? First, select a seating arrangement suitable to your meeting type. Prior to your meeting, consider the number of participants, level of interaction, and meeting goals. Then, match the seating arrangements accordingly.
The way the meeting room is arranged plays an important role in promoting interactive discussion. Auditorium or classroom-style arrangements where participants face the speaker generate - even unconsciously - the feeling the speaker's role is to speak, in which case the participant's role is to passively listen. This may be fine for formal presentations, but is not conducive to interactive discussion.
Much better are square or circular arrangements with the facilitator in the centre, or U-shaped arrangements with the facilitator at the open end of the U. This works well for both formal presentations and interactive discussion. Circle, square, and U seating arrangements enable participants to see each other's faces and capitalize on the fact that it is much easier to talk to a face than to the back of a head.
Also, with a circle, square, or U, no one can 'hide' in the back row to avoid participating. This way, everyone has an equally important front row seat.
Types of Room Set Up
The most commonly used arrangement is a U-shaped table for participants, with the facilitator working at the open end of the U. This arrangement is important for democratic, drop-the-rank interaction. Everybody can see the faces of the other participants, and there are no built-in power positions at the table. While the U is optimal for most meetings, sometimes there are too many people for the U and you may have to deviate somewhat. If you need a U-shaped configuration, hold out for a room that can support it.
U-Shape: form tables in a U-shape with chairs on the outside; the open part of the U is for presentation
Round Tables: if there will be a lot of writing, use large round tables; leave a space open at the table for presentation materials; this also works well if the facilitator will be seated