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Planning for a Successful Meeting

Good meetings are the result of a few consistent practices. Prepare well.

This is the ninth article in a series on collaboration and conflict resolution. Read the introduction to the entire series here.

  • Agenda: Have a clear agenda with times for each item. Sequence the agenda items in a reasonable way to give each enough time and address them in the necessary order. It is helpful to identify the desired outcome, time allotted, and responsible person for each agenda item.
  • Decorum/Behavioral Guidelines: Robert’s Rules of Order refers to decorum. Have a clear set of ‘guidelines’ or ‘ground rules’ that your association has adopted. Make sure they are posted on a piece of flip chart paper or white board where everyone can see them and review them briefly at the beginning of the meeting. These guidelines help create a psychologically safe space that encourages the full creative contributions of everyone. Follow them and address behavior that does not comply immediately.
    • Here are seven guidelines for effective discussion to consider and adapt to your association’s needs:
      • Look for common ground – emphasize commonalities, not differences
      • Listen to understand and consider view of others – keep ears and minds open
      • Ask clarifying questions – understand (dis)advantages of other ideas
      • Speak succinctly, clearly, respectfully – allow equal time for each other to speak
      • Focus on the issues, not on people – personal attacks are not allowable
      • Everyone participates – others may have great ideas too
      • Be creative – find effective new ideas and approaches
    • Share the Air Time: The guidelines should address this clearly. If someone is dominating discussion or in some other way preventing others from participating, the person chairing the meeting needs to stop the discussion and respectfully point out the need to follow the guidelines. It may be necessary to use a time device to allocate the same amount of time to each speaker with an understanding that a person may not speak again until all others who have not yet spoken receive an opportunity to do so.
    • Summary: Before ending the meeting, identify the items that were resolved or identified for follow up action. Be clear about what will be done, when it will be done, and who will do it. If some items raised or discussed are deferred, clarify how their status will be tracked or revisited so they do not ‘drop through the cracks.’
    • Evaluate the Meeting: Leave 5 minutes at the end to receive feedback from participants and use this feedback to improve your association’s meeting practices. The most efficient way to do this is to take comments and write them on an easel pad in three columns. See the sample below.
+(indicating strengths, or things that went well) -(indicating things that should change) ?(indicating things that should be considered for the next meeting but neither a positive nor an item needing change)
  • meeting ended on time
  • hard to hear what was said
  • Should we send out a second reminder to see if we can get better attendance?
  • everyone participated
  • spent too much time on item A and were not able to get to new business
  • Who is going to organize and chair the next meeting?
  • solved a problem
   

If you are interested in more resources to design and run effective meetings, an excellent resource is Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making Second edition by Sam Kaner et al. Jossey-Bass 2007. The Office of Neighborhood Coordination has a copy of this book available to borrow.