How frustrating is it when a meeting you’re involved in drags on? There has been a lot of discussion, but very few outcomes. It’s getting late. You look at the time and realise that the meeting still has a long way to go. It’s not just you either, others have lost interest and some are getting noticeably upset. This is the point where personal relationships can become strained and the whole meeting goes downhill fast. Unfortunately, this is a common result when meetings are poorly prepared and delivered.
Committee meetings are essential to the effective operation of a volunteer led organisation. As the leadership team, it is the responsibility of everyone on the committee to ensure effective meetings are conducted. This article focuses on the processes you need to employ if you wish to conducting amazing committee meetings.
Preparation and Planning for your meeting is critical
Meetings need to be carefully planned to ensure desired outcomes are achieved. These desired outcomes need to be understood, communicated and strived for. It is detrimental to the organisation to meet for meeting sake!
A week prior to the meeting, your Secretary should send a Meeting Invite to all committee members. It serves a number of important purposes.
Firstly, it is an important reminder of the meeting and confirms the time and location it will be held.
Also use the invite to ask for apologies from those who are unable to attend. An apology must come from the person in question and represents their wish to have it noted in the minutes. It is important to track the attendance of your committee members to ensure they are fulfilling their obligations to the position they have accepted.
Ask for agenda items. Ensure everyone understands that items not included on the agenda, will not be discussed in the meeting! This is important to ensure meetings stay on track and on time. When requesting an item to be placed on the agenda, the expectation of committee members should be that they also state the outcome they wish to achieve – Is it to make a decision, agree on the next action or reach consensus? To facilitate a quicker outcome during the meeting, send any relevant information to committee members so they can consider it beforehand. Your Secretary should vet all requests to ensure they are suitable, and have been positioned correctly before adding them to the meeting agenda.
Top Tip: Take the opportunity to acknowledge and motivate your team on the invite.
Example: ‘Thank you for giving your time to support our school. We are grateful to have such a dedicated team.’
Ensure it is heartfelt and vary the message on each invite, otherwise it will lose its meaning.
Prepare a Meeting Agenda
There are many standard items that form the basis of every meeting agenda. Items such as apologies, correspondence received and financial report. Start with these and then add extra permitted agenda items from your team.
Outstanding Actions from previous meetings should form an agenda items for the next meeting. This is so the person or sub-committee responsible can update the committee on the progress or completion of the task. This is important to ensure committee members take ownership for completing tasks they are responsible for.
It is important to have your committee members in attendance for each meeting. Consult with your team and agree on a time and location that suits everyone to ensure greater involvement.
To assist in planning, set a pattern for the date when meetings will be held – Example, first Wednesday of each month. This will promote better attendance at your meetings, as your committee members can manage their own calendars to ensure they are available.
Allocate time limits to each agenda item. This will help keep your meeting on track. If you run out of time for an item, hold it over for the next meeting and agree on the actions to be undertaken before then.
Delivering an effective meeting
Start on time – Every time!
Commence the meeting at the proposed start time regardless of whether everyone has arrived. It is important to set good standards that everyone follows. If it is acceptable to be late, then guess what? People will be late! It is important that the leadership team is ready to start on time, to set a good example to the rest of the committee. There is no need to single out those who are late, you will find most people are naturally embarrassed and will try harder to be on time for future meetings.
It is imperative that there are role descriptions for each position on your committee. Volunteers need to know what is expected from them to complete their roles effectively. An effective role description should detail the full responsibilities of the position and be utilised by your committee members to ensure they are fulfilling all aspects of their role.
Top tip: It is good practice to make role descriptions available prior to your AGM so your potential committee members understand what they are signing up for. This also reinforces what is expected from re-elected members. At a minimum, all committee members should receive a role description at the start of their new tenure.
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‘Park it’ for later!
It is vital to prepare an agenda to keep your meeting on track. However, it is inevitable that discussions will stray from the set agenda. When this happens, action needs to be taken straight away to put a halt to it. The chairperson should politely interrupt and offer to ‘park it’ for discussion later. If it is agreed so, then physically add it to a list along with the name of the person who raised it. Allocate 10 minutes at the end of each meeting to revisit any ‘parked’ items. At that time, ask each person to briefly explain their point and determine what action to take.
Allow committee members to thrive
People generally volunteer because they feel they can make a meaningful contribution. They must be encouraged and allowed to do so. During meetings, the President / Chairperson should seek and listen to everyone’s opinions and involve the entire team in making decisions for the organisation. When your volunteers feel valued and are given the authority to fulfil their roles and extend themselves, they will be more motivated and productive. This will result in a greater distribution of tasks and avoid the common failure where a few individuals get lumped with the bulk of the workload.
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Outcomes must be sought
The main aim of an effective committee meeting is to solve problems, make decisions and agree on clear actions – not hold lengthy discussions. When lengthy discussions occur, it is a strong indication that there are information deficits. To help avoid this happening, it is important to have clearly considered agenda items, necessary reports completed and relevant information circulated before the meeting so quick and informed outcome can be achieved.
There will be many actions or tasks arising from your meeting. It is important to agree on who will complete each task and also assign an expected completion date. This encourages accountability and involvement from everyone on the committee, to ensure task get completed.
Important tasks to complete after your meeting
Send the meeting minutes to your committee members as soon as possible after your meeting. This gives your members a chance to validate what was discussed in the meeting and also reinforces what action they need to take.
Ideally, send an individual notification to the person assigned to each task. Confirm the agreed action and when it is to be completed by. This will lead to greater accountability and task completion. Also take the opportunity to thank them for their attendance, contribution and for accepting the task.
Administration and people management
Update the attendance record of each committee member. Contact members if their attendance has dropped below the expected level to encourage greater involvement, or an alternate resolution. Develop a policy around attendance and ensure it is shared, tracked and managed consistently.
It is equally important for the leadership team to follow up absent members who did not provide an apology. This may indicate that they have lost interest or motivation. I find the best way to address this is by calling them to make sure everything is ok. It’s not about making them feel bad for their non-attendance, but rather trying to understand if there are any issues affecting them. Better outcomes will always be achieved when you communicate in a respectful and constructive manner. On the other hand, it is perfectly ok to relieve someone of their position if they consistently demonstrate that they are not committed to it.
It is good practice for the president or meeting chair to reflect on the effectiveness of each meeting held. How can it be improved next time? Did any participants impact the success of the meeting? How should you address this with them? I strongly suggest developing a set of behavioural standards to adopt for meetings. Develop these with your committee and agree on the standards they choose to adopt.
Top Tip: Provide a feedback section in the meeting minutes to reinforce and recognise constructive behaviour. When you consistently focus on the positives and uplift your committee, you will find there are fewer issues you need to deal with.
This article has focused on the processes that will help you prepare, conduct or participate in effective committee meetings.