Many people feel that meetings are a waste of time. Some are, but many can be useful, when properly structured. Val Moore looks at how to make meetings worthwhile.

An effective 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.

Chairing the meeting yourself

Should the date of the meeting not already be set, then inform those that are to attend, wherever possible, at least three weeks in advance of the date, time and place with an idea of the purpose of the meeting. The detailed agenda can go out later.

The 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 that item

  • the time allocated to that item

  • the objective

  • who is needed to participate in that discussion

  • the outcome that is desired:

    • a decision

    • a discussion

    • to share information.

Items should be listed in order of priority.

The last item on many agendas is “Any other business”. This is used badly.

  • If the item is important, then it deserves its own place on the agenda.

  • It can be used by people to “hijack” the meeting, bringing up an important item, just as everyone is winding down.

  • A lot of trivial matters are brought up which are not of relevance or interest.

Leave it off! If something is important enough to be discussed, it is important enough to be placed on the main agenda! It will certainly ensure that agenda items are submitted in good time, rather than people thinking, “I’ll just raise it under AOB”.

Maybe a half way measure is to ask for AOB at the beginning of the meeting and decide if the matter is to be added to the end of the agenda or placed on the agenda for the next meeting.

Meetings should start on time and the agenda should enforce this (ie 9.20am for a 9.30am prompt start).

Agenda & Purpose

Place and Date of Meeting

Time 9.20am for 9.30am

1. Items of “Any Other Business”

2. Minutes of last meeting

2. Action points not covered below

3. Budget

3. Who: Finance Officer

3. How long: 30 Minutes

3. Preparation: read summary of last year’s budget

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

4. Summer Fete

4. Who: Katy Smith

4. How long: 20 minutes

4. Objective: Discussion: Timing and place. Ideas for stalls and attractions

5. New Regulations

5. Who: Paula Jones

5. How Long: 15 minutes

5. Objective: Information: feedback from meeting with Council Childcare Unit. Summary handout will be made available

6. Any Other Business (if any identified at the beginning of the meeting)

The minutes

Decide if full narrative minutes are needed (time consuming) or whether action notes are more appropriate recording.

  • What was decided.

  • Any dissension.

  • Who is to do what and by when.

Chairing the meeting

  • Fully prepare — ensure that all the paperwork is to hand and in the correct order.

  • Arrive early and check all is as it should be (layout, refreshments, etc).

  • Start on time, do not go back over things for late comers — it just re-enforces the message that being late is okay and is discourteous to those that arrived on time.

  • Allow and encourage everyone to make their contribution (those who try and dominate — versus those that need encouragement to speak).

  • Keep the discussion on track.

  • Summarise the discussions — it helps keep everyone focused.

  • Keep to time — give a “5 minute warning” if an item may overrun.

At the end of the meeting

  • Summarise the action points and who is doing what (it may be helpful to write this up on a flip chart pad so everyone can see who is responsible for what).

  • Thank people for their attendance.

  • Prepare and circulate the minutes/action points as quickly 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

A 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 3 items, find new suppliers and/or renegotiate current deals. Revise budget based on above

Finance Officer

5 days before next meeting and circulate revised budgets and details “deals done”

Fete

Use either the community centre or sports centre for any week end in July

Research availability and costs

Kay Smith

Before next meeting

New Regulations

Staff need to be aware of new regulations

Copies of summary to be circulated with memo

Supervisors to discuss at their team meeting

Paula Jones

All

7 days

At next team meeting

Attending someone else’s meeting

That meeting is not going well? 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, as I see it, 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?

Final thoughts

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

Finally, a few chosen words from Mark McCormack: “Every discussion in a meeting has a diminishing curve of interest. The longer the discussion goes on, the fewer people will be interested in it.”

Last reviewed 29 June 2015