What is a Meeting?
A meeting is the coming together of people who share common aims and objectives, and who through the use of verbal and written communication contribute to the achievement of objectives.
The Purpose of Meetings
Meetings are an important organisational tool as they can be used to:
- Develop ideas
- Solve problems
- Make decisions
- Create and develop understanding
- Encourage enthusiasm and initiative
- Provide a sense of direction
- Create a common purpose
Planning and Preparation for a Meeting
The prime importance for the success of any meeting is the attitude and leadership of the Chairperson. In a meeting, the Chairperson is the leader and, as such, has to perform the same function as the leader of any working group.
For a meeting to be effective, the Chairperson has to:
Plan, organise and control the discussion of subjects on the agenda
- Maintain the group by encouraging and developing relationships
- Motivate the individuals by encouraging all to contribute, rewarding their efforts and supporting them in any difficulties
Before any meeting, the Chairperson should ask and resolve the following questions:
What is the purpose of the meeting?
- Is a meeting appropriate?
- How should the meeting be planned?
- Who should attend the meeting?
- What preparation is required for the meeting?
What is the Purpose of the Meeting?
All meetings must have a purpose or aim and the Chairperson must ask questions, such as:
- What is to be achieved by this meeting?
- Is advice required on a particular issue?
- Has a problem arisen that needs prompt discussion?
- Is this a regular meeting to keep members ‘in touch’?
How to conduct a meeting
If appropriate preparations have been made, then the scene is set for an effective meeting.
You will have produced an agenda and circulated these to the attendees. This will ensure that they will arrive knowing what is going to be discussed and will provide them with the opportunity to make relevant contributions. If appropriate, they will have consulted with people they represent and discussed any issues, updates or points of interest.
What is an Agenda?
In its simplest form, an agenda sets out the list of items to be discussed at a meeting.
It should include:
- The purpose of the meeting
- The order in which items are to be discussed, so that the meeting achieves its purpose (This will later shape the minutes of the meeting)
The agenda may include more or less detail, and will often contain timings for each item.
An agenda is a tool for attendees including, but not limited to, the chairperson and secretary. It serves several functions, before, during and after a meeting.
These functions include:
- It helps potential attendees decide whether they need to attend. By setting out what will be discussed, and for how long, it shows potential attendees whether they are crucial to the discussion and whether it is crucial to them. They can then make an informed decision about whether they attend or make their contribution in writing or via another attendee
- It helps invitees to prepare for the meeting. Along with any papers, it allows them to understand what will be discussed and to think about the issues in advance. They can also prepare any facts or figures so that they have the necessary information to hand to make an effective contribution
- It provides a structure for the meeting. It means that anyone diverting from the topic can be brought back to the matter in hand quickly and easily
- Similarly, it allows the chair to control the meeting. A timed agenda is especially helpful for this, since the chair can move onto the next item when the time is up, asking attendees to continue the discussion elsewhere if necessary
- Finally, it gives a way in which the meeting’s success can be judged. Because the agenda includes the purpose, attendees can see whether the meeting has achieved its aim or not. This makes it clear whether future meetings are necessary on the same subject.
How to Set an Agenda
There are, in general, five or six broad areas to be covered in an agenda:
Logistics – This includes date, time and place of meeting, its title and a list of invited attendees.
Objective – The purpose of the meeting, and any background information such as whether this is the first in a series of meetings.
Housekeeping – This should include welcome and introductions and any apologies for absence. It should also cover approval of previous minutes, and any matters arising from them that are not dealt with elsewhere in the agenda. In a formal meeting, housekeeping will also cover any amendments that are necessary to the last set of minutes, which should be formally documented in the minutes of this meeting.
Items – This is the main part of the agenda. Each item should have a number, a title, and a presenter/lead. It should also have a suggested time limit on the discussion. Timing can be hard to ascertain without previous experience of the meeting. The secretary may need to ask the presenter/lead how long they think a particular item will take, and then discuss it with the chair. The final allocation should be based on the item’s importance to the objective of the meeting, and its level of controversy. A very controversial item that is incidental to the objective of the meeting should be postponed for discussion elsewhere.
Any Other Business (AOB) – Many agendas end with an item on ‘Any Other Business’ or ‘AOB’. While this can be an opportunity for attendees to flag up something for inclusion in a future agenda, it can also be very disruptive to the smooth flow of the meeting.
Attendees can use AOB to voice their own views and change the whole feeling of the meeting, often from a highly positive, action-focused discussion to a complaint. As AOB traditionally comes last, it is also the item that attendees are most likely to remember, especially if it was negative in tone. A well-run meeting, with a well-prepared agenda, should mean that nobody wishes to raise any other business.
It is therefore strongly recommended that you either:
- Do not include AOB as an agenda item at all; or
- If you do include AOB on the agenda, you agree that it will only be as a way of raising issues from the meeting or a discussion at a future meeting if there is something else not related being brought to the meeting.
Bad feeling from excluding AOB can be avoided by offering attendees the opportunity to suggest items for inclusion on the agenda ahead of time.
It is, however, the chairperson’s final decision about which items should be included, taken in conjunction with the secretary, in his or her role as guardian of the process.
Close – This should include the chair’s summary of the meeting, the date and time of the next meeting, and any actions agreed and who is responsible.
Agendas should generally be short documents, ideally no more than one page. However, a brief explanatory note of every item, including what is likely to be discussed and what is out of scope, will help attendees to prepare better and support the chair in controlling the meeting.
Something to consider, why would a meeting be ineffective?
There are many reasons why meetings are not effective, some of these include:
- The meeting is unnecessaryand revolves around discussion of trivial issues, thus wasting members’ valuable time
- The meeting lacks clarity of purpose, i.e. the aims and objectives are not clearly defined
- Inappropriate style of leadership, i.e., the Chairperson dominates and closes down or disregards other contributions
- The Chairperson exercises little controland allows one or two members to dominate the proceedings
- The meeting is too largethereby limiting the flow of discussion and preventing all members being able to contribute
- Decisions emerge that are not truly representative
- Problems are talked about rather than being talked through
- Decisions are delayed or not acted upon
- No clear-cut decisions are made
- Minutes are inaccurateor seen as being manipulated by the Chairperson or secretary for his/her own purposes
- The wrong people are present, thus preventing the meeting proceeding effectively, e.g. persons’ present have to refer back to another person and are therefore unable to comment effectively