To get the most out of meetings it is important to be aware of the actual process by which decisions are made. As mentioned above, meeting formats should vary depending on the circumstances. The two options of Formal Process and Group Consensus are described below. It is important to realise that meeting procedures can be much more technical than these descriptions, and there are requirements in the Act (e.g. having a quorum), and may be other requirements in the organisation's rules, governing the making of valid decisions. You may wish to refer to Useful Resources cited at the end of this chapter for more information on this topic.

Formal process

This is the procedure used by most small groups to reach a decision. There are many variations to this procedure, but the steps in common are:

  • An item is put on the agenda - e.g., buying a new television
  • Discussion of ideas for and against, implications, compromises, changes, and so on
  • After some time the discussion will have gone as far as possible, and people begin repeating themselves
  • The chairperson asks for a motion
  • Someone phrases the feeling of the meeting into a motion - e.g. "that this meeting agrees to buy a new TV by 30 June and agrees to spend no more than $500"
  • The chairperson asks for a seconder
  • Someone seconds the motion
  • The chairperson asks the meeting to vote on the motion, i.e. the "motion is put to the vote"
  • A majority vote wins - if there is a tied vote, the chairperson may have the final vote - check your organisation's rules
  • The chairperson declares to the meeting the results of the vote and repeats exactly what has been decided
  • Some discussion follows as to who will buy the television, when a cheque will be available, and so on

When this process has occurred, the minutes of the meeting should: * Record the motion exactly as worded - usually with proposer and seconder named

  • Record that the motion was agreed
  • Record any follow up actions

Remember that the decisions made by the group are the main outcomes of the meeting. Actions associated with the decision (who is going to do what, and when) should be clearly highlighted in the minutes so that people are reminded of what they agreed to do. The Secretary's Handbook for Queensland Incorporated Associations provides detailed information on meeting formats, agendas and minutes as does the Associations Incorporation Manual.

Group consensus

Group consensus is an alternative to the formal process, where the Act, regulations or rules do not require a specific procedure. Consensus is a process of making group decisions without voting. A meeting can reach consensus without having all members of the group totally agreeing with each decision. The goal of consensus is to reach a decision, usually by going back and forth in discussion until agreement is reached. Because of this, it is not necessary for every person in the group to feel that a particular decision is the solution they most want, or even think is best. Members may feel, however, that this is the best solution that can be reached at this time and under these circumstances. Consensus can be used effectively only when there is a common agreement to find solutions acceptable to the whole group. Before you use consensus, consider the following points * Your group needs to understand the process and agree to it. Remember, consensus is a process which is based on thoughtful discussion of ideas. It does not mean that the first or easiest solution wins.

  • The facilitator needs to have the ability to be both flexible and firm.
  • The group should have a high degree of common purpose.
  • People in the group should have commitment to the group rather than just to their personal agendas.

A procedure for consensus decision making is as follows:

  • A proposal or idea is put to the meeting.
  • The facilitator clarifies that everyone understands what the proposal is.
  • Discussion and disagreements are encouraged.
  • Changes and alterations are worked out by the group if necessary.
  • The proposal (or altered proposal) is restated so everyone is clear what it is.
  • The facilitator tests for consensus by asking whether people agree with the proposal and, if so, the group plans how the idea will be put into action.
  • If there is disagreement, the group goes back and reworks the proposal, trying to find new solutions or compromises.
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