Section A, Part 8
How to Have an Effective Meeting
Student groups often struggle to find time to meet. With competing demands on time, it is essential that meeting time be put to good use. It is in meetings that attitudes are created and developed as the members formulate policies, make decisions, and discuss ideas. A well-planned meeting is the key to accomplishing those items of business you need to get done.
General Principles for Meetings
- Be familiar with the constitution and bylaws and the concept of the group’s activities as part of the total school curriculum.
- Review the purposes, goals, and objectives of your organization and the kinds of activities that may assist in accomplishing them.
- Be familiar with school policies and administration guidelines regarding student activities.
- Understand the relationship of your organization to other organizations in and outside of school.
- Have a basic handbook for all members of your organization that includes the above items as well as job descriptions, and to which agendas, minutes, and other special information may be added.
- Always follow a business procedure during meetings.
- Plan meetings cooperatively with the officers, members, and adviser.
Planning a Meeting
The meeting, whether it is of the whole organization or a committee, should have a well-thought-out plan to help ensure that goals are reached. Although meetings take many forms and serve many purposes, they all share some things in common. When planning the meeting, keep these things in mind:
Purpose of the Meeting
Every meeting must have a purpose acceptable to its participants. If there is no real reason, don’t hold the meeting! Sometimes the purpose is clearly stated; sometimes it’s taken for granted. Do you want people to experience something? Learn something? Make decisions? Plan something? Consider various activities that will help accomplish your purpose, and structure your meeting to accomplish the purpose you have in mind.
Consider who will be present at the meeting. Are they familiar with the business at hand? How motivated will they be to participate? Answering these questions will help determine the activities of the meeting. Then consider who will be leading the activities.
Plan an atmosphere that will be conducive to participation and productivity. Consider such things as size of room, arrangement of seating, lighting, acoustics, temperature, and equipment needed.
Times of meetings vary greatly. How much can be dealt with in the time available? Plan your agenda so that everything can be handled within the time allowed.
Taking each of these things into consideration when planning the meeting will ensure the meeting is productive.
One of the most important elements necessary for a successful meeting is a well-planned agenda. An agenda should be:
- Planned with officers and members
- A written outline of plans for the meeting
- Listed in the order in which items are to be handled during the meeting, so if time runs out the most important matters will have been addressed
- Flexible; changes may be made with the consent of the group
- Usually in the following order:
- Call to order
- Roll call
- Reading and approving minutes
- Reports of officers
- Reports of committees: standing and special
- Unfinished business
- New business
- Program announcements
Conducting the Meeting
Good planning is essential for an effective meeting, but it’s only the first step. A good facilitator realizes that many things need to be done during the meeting itself to ensure success.
Characteristics of a Good Meeting
- The purpose of the meeting is clearly communicated.
- Only items that can be handled in the time allowed for the meeting are on the agenda.
- Someone has agreed to be the recorder of ideas presented and decisions made and get copies of those notes to everyone after the meeting.
- No one person dominates the meeting. Everyone is encouraged to participate.
- Real issues are presented and are honestly handled. If people feel that hidden agendas are floating around, encourage them to bring comments into the open.
- Only one issue or subject is handled at a time.
- A solution is not reached until the problem has been adequately discussed and analyzed. Premature motions divide the group and create artificial disagreements.
- Decision-making procedures are clear ahead of time. (Will we take a majority vote? Will we reach consensus? etc.)
- The meeting leader shows no bias and is perceived as neutral.
- The meeting leader involves and encourages everyone to participate.
- All agreements made during the meeting are verified at the end of the meeting, such as chairs appointed, committees formed, etc. Pin down the “who, what, when, and where” on the spot.
Facilitating a Meeting
Much of the success of an effective meeting depends upon a leader who has mastered skills of presiding. Keep these points in mind when presiding over a meeting.
- Help all to view the process not as a debate, but a quest. Each, including the leader, should expect to come away with his viewpoint modified, with more truth than he/she brought.
- Center upon real differences. Avoid arguments over technicalities. Do not permit “taking a point of view just for the sake of argument.” There are enough real differences if the matter is worth discussing at all.
- When general and abstract problems are proposed, ask for illustrations. Embody general issues in concrete cases. “Do you remember a specific instance?”
- Share with the group, at the beginning, a rough outline of the process, so they will feel that they know where they are going. This is in terms of steps of process, rather than outcome, or questions to be raised rather than answers to be attained.
- The responsibility to initiate discussion when there is none lies with the presider.
- Keep your eyes open to developments. Watch members and try to catch their nonverbal cues.
- Avoid tangles over words and definitions. The meaning of any term is not its definition, but the many concrete experiences that have become tied up with the general phrases.
- Draw out shy people with friendly encouragement.
- Get brief statements, not speeches. What is wanted is a rapid give-and-take to mold the idea into a form that embodies the concern of the entire group. Facilitate discussion.
- The leader need not comment on every contribution.
- Summarize often. Point out how the discussion started; suggest proposals and consideration on all sides. Do not allow members to get confused over issues. Orient and guide.
- In summaries, bring together the areas upon which all in the group have agreed. Make it clear that no more discussion is needed on those points. This clears the way for real problems.
- Try to see leadership as a service function for the group, rather than as a characteristic of a “gifted individual.” Handle business by general consent.
- Work for consensus rather than majority control. One person against 100 may still have enough right in her/his idea so that the 100 should make some modification in their attitudes.
- Trust the group. There is no person in it who is not superior to the rest in at least one respect. The experience of all is richer than the experience of any. The group as a whole can see further and more truly than its best member.
Facilitating Comments to Group Members
Here are some examples of comments a meeting facilitator could use to promote clear communication and help make sure that the purpose of the meeting is accomplished.
- “Let’s check that out with the rest of the group.”
- “Do you see it differently?”
- “How do you see the problem?”
- “Sounds like that’s a problem we ought to address.”
- “I still don’t have a handle on the real problem. What is it?”
- Boomerang—”What would you like to be doing?”
- “Oh, your perception is . . . (describe). That’s how you see the problem.”
- “Sounds like this is a real problem.”
- “Looks like you’re really concerned about this issue.”
- “It feels like we’re wasting valuable time. What would be a better use of our time?”
- Feeding back what is going on—”Sounds like you’re all worn out.”
- “What are we doing right now?”
- “Say a little more about that.”
- “What’s the purpose of this presentation?”
- “Hold on. I think we’re talking about two problems: (problem) and (problem). I think they are both important, but let’s talk about them one at a time.”
- “It’s a big agenda today. Do you want to get through the whole agenda? (yes) Okay, if I push too hard, let me know”.
- “What do you want to have happen?”
- “Wait a second. We’re jumping all around. We’re brainstorming, discussing, clarifying, and debating. Let’s stay in one phase at a time.”
- “That’s an important consideration. Let’s get that down. I’d like to come back to that after we finish the subject we’re on, okay?”
Dealing with Problems from Group Members
As leaders, we sometimes find ourselves working with a group, trying to discuss important matters—and no matter what we do, we can’t get the group to work constructively together. It is helpful if we can stay calm and analyze what is happening before we react. The following are suggestions you might want to try if a group member appears to be keeping the group from being productive.
If a group member . . . You might . . .