Meetings are a crucial tool for democratic management.
Effective meetings result in clear, agreed and delegated decisions to which everyone is committed.
A familiar problem for many groups when it comes to organising a meeting be it a Board meeting or a public one is a lack of participation or uneven participation, where some are more interactive and vocal than others.
It will always be the case that some people are more comfortable or more experienced at voicing their views in a large group, but it is the Chair’s responsibility to exercise control over the meeting.
Choice of venue, timing of the meeting, layout of the seating, lighting, heating and availability of refreshments are all elements that will impact on the extent to which people will feel empowered to participate.
In the following sections we will look at some tips for the effective organisation and running of meetings.
The Chair is responsible for:
- Preparing the agenda alongside the Secretary
- Prioritising agenda items and allocating time to each one
- Making sure that no one person dominates the meeting and everyone has a chance to speak
- Supporting and helping less confident members get their views across
- Building on agreement and moving discussions along
- Clarifying the issues or positions of various parties before the meeting attempts to come to an agreement
- Summarising what has been decided and making sure everyone agrees
- Allocating tasks, ensuring responsibility for action is clear and recorded
- Keeping to time
The Chair and the Secretary should work closely together to ensure that the minutes are a correct record of decisions taken and actions agreed.
Agendas & Papers
The agenda is simply a list of items to be addressed during the meeting. Some groups find it useful to allot time slots for each agenda item, ensuring that the important items get the most time.
It is the responsibility of the Chair to prepare the agenda alongside the Secretary, however everyone needs to know how to submit items to be included in the agenda.
Agendas often include AOB (Any Other Business) as the last item. If the Chair considers that an AOB item needs more extensive discussion than time permits, they should postpone discussions until the next regular meeting or if necessary, arrange an extra meeting.
The agenda usually follows a standard format:
- Date, time and venue
- Apologies for absence
- Minutes of the last meeting – are they a correct record?
- Matters arising from the minutes (that aren’t already on the agenda)
- Agenda items
- Any other business
- Date and time of next meeting
Ongoing projects, reports from subgroups, suggestions for new projects or changes in policy or procedures should be written up and circulated along with the agenda and minutes of the previous meeting in good time for people to read them before the meeting takes place.
It is impossible to read a paper and participate in a meeting at the same time.
Early agenda circulation also gives enough time to seek motions for the agenda from the membership.
The minutes are a record of decisions taken and the names of those responsible for actions, including possible target dates and are the responsibility of the organisations Secretary.
Minutes are a vital tool for continuity and accountability, ensuring that what was agreed can be reviewed and the results assessed at subsequent meetings.
This is achieved by checking the minutes of the previous meeting are a correct record and by reviewing any issues remaining unresolved under the heading “Matters arising”
These are unresolved issues which are not already covered by a subsequent agenda.
Actions to be taken as a result of decisions should be clearly recorded in the minutes so that they stand out. This helps the Chair to identify any matters arising at the start of the next meeting.
Summary of what the minutes should contain:
- Date of the meeting
- Names of those present
- Names of those not present who have sent their apologies
- Confirmation that the previous meetings minutes have been agreed, or any amendments to the previous meetings minutes
- Decisions relating to matters arising from the previous meetings minutes
- Decisions relating to agenda items listed in the order in which they are taken at the meeting
- Decisions relating to any other business
- Date and time of the next meeting
Minutes should be typed up and circulated to everyone present as soon as possible after the meeting. They can be useful as a reminder of tasks agreed by those present, so are not much help if they do not appear until just before the next meeting.
Where to draw the line?
Whilst transparency is important, the board does need to ensure that it does not compromise the effective operation of the club.
There will be times when, for example, commercially sensitive items or topics of a personal nature are being considered, and it would not be sensible or appropriate to share the information more widely.
That is why, in these circumstances, we’d recommend that the board publishes a report (or summary) rather than full detailed minutes.
The Five Steps of Decision Making
How often do we find ourselves jumping to a conclusion about the best way forward when we have not looked at all the facts or even clarified that we all agree what the problem is?
It helps to begin by clarifying the issue or problem to be solved and then to move on to actually making a decision and implementing a solution.
- Clarify the issue or problem
- What is the issue or problem?
- When and where is it happening?
- Who is involved?
- Can someone write down a brief description?
- Collect information
- What might be the causes?
- How can it be measured or assessed?
- Are there standards or norms that can be used as guidance?
- Explore options
- Use brainstorming techniques to generate ideas
- Screen the ideas to eliminate the unworkable ones
- Evaluate options
- Identify costs and benefits (pros and cons) for each
- Identify risks associated with each option
- Maybe the way forwards is a mixture of different options?
- Implement the chosen option
- Monitor progress
- Evaluate and assess results