Last reviewed 15 July 2014

A lot of people feel that meetings are a waste of time. Some are, but many can be useful, if properly structured. Val Moore advises on how to make meetings worthwhile.

Once the date of the meeting has been set, inform those that are to attend at least three weeks in advance, with an idea of the purpose of the meeting, the date, the time and the place. A detailed agenda can go out later.

A good meeting will have:

  • an agenda

  • an effective chairperson

  • aims and objectives that are understood by those attending

  • the relevant people attending, who know why they are there and come prepared

  • discussions that are relevant, useful, and to the point

  • decisions taken and actions agreed to take things forward.

Agenda

Agenda items and/or any supporting documents to be circulated should be submitted to the chairperson (or other person responsible), say, five days before the meeting. This allows the agenda, and any papers that need to be read, to be circulated at least three days prior to the meeting to keep everyone informed of what is expected.

Each item on the agenda should be more than just a heading. It should also show:

  • who is leading which item

  • the time allocated to that item

  • the objective

  • who is needed to participate in that discussion

  • the outcome that is desired, ie a discussion, decision, or to share information.

Agenda items should be listed in order of priority.

Any other business

The last item on many agendas is usually “any other business” (AOB). Arguably if an item is important enough it deserves its own place on the agenda, ensuring that agenda items are submitted in good time, rather than letting people think: “I’ll just raise it under AOB.”

AOB can also be used as an opportunity to hijack the meeting, bringing up an important item just as everyone is winding down. In addition, a lot of trivial matters can be brought up that are not of relevance or interest.

Perhaps a halfway measure is to ask for AOB at the beginning of the meeting and decide whether the matter is to be added to the end of the agenda or can wait until the next meeting.

Meetings should start on time and the agenda should enforce this, eg 9.20am for a 9.30am prompt start.

Sample agenda

Agenda and purpose

Room 8, 15 July 2014

Time: 9.20am for 9.30am

  1. Suggestions for AOB

    • Minutes of last meeting

    • Action points not covered below

  2. Budget

    • Who: finance officer

    • Duration: 30 minutes

    • Preparation: read summary of last year’s budget

    • Objective: to decide, as we have the same budget, where 5% savings can be made as we need to spend £x on redecoration

  3. Summer fête

    • Who: Kay Smith

    • Duration: 20 minutes

    • Preparation: give thought to what is to be discussed

    • Objective: timing and location, ideas for stalls and attractions

  4. New regulations

    • Who: Paula Jones

    • Duration: 15 minutes

    • Objective: feedback from meeting with Local Childcare Unit

  5. AOB (if identified at the start of the meeting)

Minutes

Decide whether full narrative minutes are needed, which can be time-consuming, or whether action notes are more appropriate, recording:

  • what was decided

  • any dissension

  • who is to do what, by when.

Chairperson

The chairperson should fully prepare for the meeting, ensuring that all paperwork is to hand and in the correct order.

He or she should arrive early and check layout, refreshments, etc, then ensure that the meeting starts on time and does not go back over things for latecomers: this just reinforces the message that being late is fine.

Allowing and encouraging everyone to make their contribution is important: there will be those who try and dominate and those that need encouragement to speak). The chairperson should:

  • thank people for their attendance

  • keep discussions on track

  • summarise discussions: it helps keep everyone focused

  • keep to time: give a five-minute warning if an item looks as though it may overrun

  • summarise the action points and who is doing what (it may be helpful to write this up on a flipchart)

  • prepare and circulate the minutes/action points as early as possible (while the memory is still fresh and others cannot use the argument of not having done what they should have because they had not received the minutes).

Action points

This simple table may help.

Decision

Action

By whom

By what date

Budget

Reduce stationery bill, telephone costs and utility costs

Review last year’s costs on these items, find new suppliers and/or renegotiate current deals. Revise budget based on above

Finance officer

Five days before next meeting, and circulate revised budget and details of “deals done”

Fête

Use either the community centre or sports centre for any weekend in July

Research availability and costs

Kay Smith

Before next meeting

New regulations

Staff need to be made aware of new regulations

Copies of summary to be circulated with memo

Paula Jones

Within seven days

Supervisors to discuss at their team meeting

All

At next team meeting

Attending someone else’s meeting

It is impolite to take over a meeting, but it can be influenced. Use “requests”, “questions to summarise” or “suggestions”.

Requests

  • Would it help us to confirm who is doing what?

  • I would find it very helpful if we could list the ideas so far.

Questions to summarise

  • May I confirm what we have agreed so far, to ensure I have things correct? [Then summarise.]

Suggestions

  • At the last meeting, we put up the ideas on a flipchart. I found that very helpful: would it help now?

Meetings should be productive and people should leave one feeling it was time well spent.