What to do During a Meeting
The meeting leader or facilitator can make a huge difference in a group's productivity. These ten leader actions can maximize the group's time and productivity. Each is explained in more detail below.
- Start on time
- Ensure a quorum
- Review agenda
- Keep discussion focused
- Encourage participation
- Help group come to decisions
- Summarize decisions
- Agree on action plan
- Draft agenda for next meeting(s)
- Evaluate meeting
Start the meeting promptly on schedule and do not wait for others to arrive. A large amount of professional time is wasted by leaders who wait for more people to arrive before starting a meeting. It may require a change in the culture, but once people know that you start your meetings on time, they will arrive on time.
Tip: Some groups even schedule 15 minutes of time to socialize before the start of the meeting.
For committees and groups using Robert's Rules of Order to guide their procedures, ensuring that a quorum is present is the chair's responsibility.
Under Robert's Rules of Order, a quorum is the number of members entitled to vote who must be present in order that business can be legally transacted. The quorum is usually the majority of the members unless a different quorum is decided upon.
If a quorum is not present, any business transacted is null and void except for procedures such as calling the meeting to order, announcing absence of a quorum and entertaining a motion to adjourn, recess, or take measures to gather a quorum.
Some departments or offices find themselves waiting to start a meeting until a quorum has been achieved. This makes it all the more important for members to arrive on time.
For more information on quorum procedures, see the 1990 (9th edition) Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.)
Always briefly review the agenda including the aims and purposes as the meeting gets started. This helps participants focus their attention and understand what will be required of them. Many of us attend meetings one after the other, so it's helpful when the chair provides this "advance organizer".
In reviewing the agenda, the chair should make it clear what decisions must be made or actions must be taken.
Focus on agenda items. Even if these items are clearly listed and emphasized, creative, intelligent and committed people may stray from the topic.
To get a runaway meeting back on track, the chair can say, "We are getting off topic and need to move back to XYZ." Then he or she repeats the topic, issues or question again.
Some groups maintain a "parking lot" on a separate piece of paper for important issues that come up but are not directly related to the discussion. The "parking lot" can be consulted for agenda planning for succeeding meetings.
Effective meetings are participatory and good leaders try to get everyone involved. Some ways to encourage full participation include:
Begin the meeting with a question that everyone can answer and go round-robin. The question should be stated on the agenda and might be something like, "What are your hopes for this committee's work?"
When asking for solutions/ideas, go round-robin at least once so everyone has a chance to offer an opinion
On a flip chart or projected from a laptop, keep a list of ideas/opinions being generated so people can see their ideas in front of the group
When brainstorming, ensure that ideas/suggestions are not critiqued as they are offered. Get all the ideas on the table before critiquing. Waiting to critique will generally increase the amount of participation.
A group reaches consensus when it finally agrees on a choice and each group member can say:
- "I believe that others understand my point of view"
- "I believe I understand others' points of view"
- "Whether or not I prefer this decision, I support it (and will not undermine it) because it was arrived at openly and fairly and is the best solution for this committee or group at this time."
Be clear before the discussion begins how the final decision will be made--if vote will be taken or if decision will be made by consensus and/or prioritization of options.
See prioritizing for methods of identifying priorities.
When a group seems to have come to a consensus or decision, restate and summarize what the final decision(s) is. This helps to ensure that all members hear the same thing. Clarification at this point can prevent problems later.
An example summary statement could be, "We have decided to cap our undergraduate majors at 40 if we are not able to fill the Vice-Jenkins slot. If we get approval to fill that slot, we will consider removing the cap."
An action plan outlines the specifics that must be done. Not every goal needs an action plan, but for goals that involve more than one person, it's usually helpful to be specific about who will do what by when. See a sample action plan.
Every goal should have a point person-an individual charged with ensuring that the goal is moving forward. The point person is not expected to complete the goal personally but to connect the people involved, make progress reports, and seek assistance or resources needed to keep the goal moving forward.
Ask for agenda items for the next meeting from the floor or ask a small group of 2 or 3 members to work on creating agendas. People are more likely to participate in a meeting if they have had some input into building the agenda
Even if every item suggested cannot be dealt with in a meeting, look for ways to provide information via handouts, E-mail, or creating connections with others.
Before the meeting adjourns, try to do a brief evaluation. Ask some informal questions such as, "Do you feel like we accomplished what we needed to today? Did everyone participate?" The meeting leader can ask the questions with group members answering in turn, round-robin style, or the questions can be asked for anyone to answer.
Brief paper surveys are another option and the group results should be aggregated and shared. Focus on any weak spots identified in the evaluation at the next meetings. See a sample meeting evaluation survey.