Boards and management committees
This section describes how to organise and run a successful meeting. It looks at some of the common problems, difficulties and the ways decisions are reached. The format for conducting an Annual General Meeting is also discussed.
The basis of any meeting is the agenda. An agenda gives a meeting direction, structure and purpose. You need to allow sufficient time to accomplish what you set out to do. It is important to decide the content of the agenda which involves the Chair and Secretary gathering items from other committee members. If there is an employed manager they will usually be involved as well.
As an example, an agenda for a meeting to set up a new organisation might look like this:
- Welcome and introduction.
- Presentation of research findings.
- Need for a new service.
- Discussion of draft aims and objectives.
- Election of steering committee.
- Decision on time and place for next meeting.
- Allocation of tasks arising from the meeting’s decisions.
It’s important to stick to the agenda and not to be side-tracked by other issues. This does not mean other issues are not dealt with, but that they should be dealt with in an appropriate fashion, for example, after the meeting agenda has been completed but before the closure. Also, keep an eye on the time. Rushing decision-making can be as fraught as paying too much attention to matters which are irrelevant.
A meeting can fail miserably because nobody thought about the people, only the issues. There are some important ‘housekeeping’ tasks to be considered so that people at the meeting feel comfortable.
Decide whether you will:
- Have tea/coffee before, during or after the meeting (where are the toilets?).
- Have name tags.
- Provide childcare – what facilities will they need?
- Ascertain whether an interpreter will be needed and make the necessary arrangements.
- Record the names and addresses of those present.
- Have multiple copies of documents, such as research findings or draft goals and objectives.
Also, do not try to do everything yourself. Ensure that you have people who will welcome and introduce people to each other, take minutes to record the meeting, serve refreshments, set up before and clean up afterwards.
Meetings are necessary for making decisions, communicating information and developing relationships. Meetings can take up a lot of time and if they are to be of maximum benefit they need to be run properly. The following information contrasts helpful and unhelpful meeting behaviours and then offers some suggestions for ways in which you can improve your meeting.
Helpful meeting behaviours
Helpful meeting behaviours occur where:
- Everyone who wants to, can have a say and feels safe in expressing their views.
- The business gets finished on time, but with adequate consideration of the agenda.
- Everyone is clear about what happened and what decisions were made.
- There is consideration of people from non-English speaking backgrounds and people with a disability.
- There is care and sensitivity to people’s different cultural backgrounds and experiences.
- Everyone understands the meeting procedures, the jargon and the abbreviations being used.
- The business is not too rushed or too slow. The chairperson sets the pace according to the meeting.
- The group is welcoming and encouraging of new or quiet people.
- The chairperson is neutral.
- Everyone feels that their contribution is valued.
Unhelpful meeting behaviours
Unhelpful meeting behaviours occur where:
- A few people dominate discussion and decision-making.
- Business is never finished: agenda items are carried on from one meeting to the next, the meeting finishes very late, and everyone feels frustrated.
- There is confusion or unresolved conflict, anger or fights.
- New people feel unwelcome or alienated.
- Formal procedure is used, but only a few people understand it.
- Jargon and abbreviations are used that only a few people understand.
- Decision-making is raced through by a dominant chairperson who pushes his/her opinion all the time.
- The chairperson is biased.
The format and formality of a meeting will depend on who is at the meeting, what is being discussed, and the type of community association. While Annual General Meetings of most associations are usually conducted formally, many Management Committee meetings are held around a kitchen table with a cup of coffee. The larger the group, the more formal the proceedings usually have to be so that order is maintained and the meeting can process its business. It is generally the task of the person who chairs the meeting to guide the style of the meeting procedure. An inappropriate meeting procedure style will cause difficulties.
The provisions of the organisation’s constitution, rules and legislation such as Associations Incorporation Act ought to be observed at all times, particularly those requiring accurate minutes and records to be kept. Under the Model Rules provided to guide incorporated associations (Schedule 4 of the Associations Incorporation Regulations), the secretary is responsible for ensuring that full and accurate minutes of meetings are kept, including all questions, resolutions and other proceedings. The chairperson of the meeting is responsible for verifying accuracy of the minutes.
Under the Associations Incorporation Act and the Model Rules, meetings of the Management Committee must be held at least once in every four calendar months. Meetings can be held via communication technology, for example teleconferencing. There must be a quorum for a meeting, otherwise any decisions made are not valid. The model rules define minimum numbers for a quorum and set out requirements for adjourning meetings at which a quorum is not present. The Management Committee agenda should be prepared in advance and sent out to everyone attending the meeting. Committee members should be given the opportunity to place items on the agenda at the beginning of each meeting. They should prepare a brief explanation of the topic, to advise other members of the reason for placing it on the agenda. Also, the reports from the treasurer and staff members as well as urgent letters received by the secretary should be included with the agenda. The committee as a whole should agree to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting as well as to the order of priority given to items being discussed and any time limits placed on items.
The agenda will often have the following framework:
- Date, time and place of the intended meeting.
- Welcome to regular people and especially to any visitors or guests.
- Apologies – acceptance of the names of the people who have advised that they cannot attend.
- Minutes of the last meeting – the minutes are accepted as accurate or amended so that they are accurate.
- Business arising – one by one, those items of business which were discussed at a previous meeting and needed action are reviewed to see how the action is progressing. The progress and any further instructions or guidance which is given to those responsible for the continuing work is minuted. This process continues at each meeting and therefore keeps on top of projects which could either go astray or be abandoned as people forget their responsibilities. You should also consider bringing forward any business which was scheduled for the last meeting, but was not actually discussed or resolved.
- Correspondence – deal with all letters that have been received and sent since the last meeting. This does not mean you should read each one at the meeting, but rather the secretary should present a list of incoming and outgoing letters and seek guidance on important or difficult topics.
- Treasurer’s report – the treasurer gives a report of the organisation’s money situation, i.e., what has been received and spent, estimates for the coming month and any other important matters. The report should also reflect whether expenses and income are in line with the budget of the organisation for that period. The Associations Incorporation Act and Regulations require the management committee to approve or ratify the association’s expenditure and ensure the approval or ratification is recorded in the management committee’s minute book.
- Staff reports – reports from the staff about the work done, important issues arising, plans, statistics, and so on.
- Other reports – for example from sub-committees.
- General business – the general items on the agenda are now discussed.
- Any other business – this is where you discuss any extra items members have raised.
- Meeting close, setting date and time for next meeting.
Chairing a meeting involves a range of facilitation skills. It is important to draw on the individual skills, capacities and strengths of all members. As a chairperson you need to:
- Know your agenda – identify which items are the most important and decide how long you need to allow for each of them.
- Know the rules of your organisation and be clear about the procedures. Understand how your group usually runs its meetings and, if you want to change these procedures, take the time to explain why.
- Take the lead – introduce each agenda item by giving a quick summary of background points. Start the discussion by asking someone else what they think.
- Stay neutral – if you feel strongly about an item and want to join in the discussion, leave the chair. Ask someone else to take the role of chairperson for that agenda item.
- Encourage discussion – however, keep it under control. Let everyone have their turn.
- Involve everyone – ask the quiet people what they think.
- Keep the discussion on the topic – if people start talking about something else, suggest it be put on the agenda and discussed at a later time, in the proper order of business.
- Be democratic and firm – remember it is the committee that must make the decisions.
- Listen carefully so that you can clarify and summarise where necessary.
- Mediate when necessary – if there is conflict between members, stay neutral and allow each person to explain their point without interruptions.
- When a topic has been fully discussed, summarise and put it to the group for a decision or vote. Ask if anyone can put forward a motion. Make sure everyone is clear about what they are deciding on/voting on.
- Make sure everyone is aware of the decision that has been made and that it is written down in the minutes.
A good and neutral chairperson will reflect the wishes of the committee and guide the meeting through an agreed process. If special problems prompt a change to the agenda, eg, extending the time spent on an item, or calling a special meeting to deal with one issue, then you first need to have the approval of the meeting. Suspend the discussion on the agenda item, obtain approval for special circumstances, then either return to the item or carry on with the agenda, returning later to the item which was a problem. It is wise to set a time limit for discussion of difficult items, otherwise they will be discussed forever. A good chairperson will remind the meeting of the relative importance of different agenda items and schedule the energy of the meeting accordingly.
Using the meeting space
The physical space in which the meeting is held has an enormous impact on people’s feelings and reactions. Lighting which is too harsh or too dull, uncomfortable chairs, cramped or poorly ventilated conditions and bad acoustics can all contribute to bad meetings. A comfort break may be needed during the meeting to ‘stretch the legs’ and regain concentration. Think about sitting around a table: it can give a sense of formality and purpose. Make sure each person has enough table space to work with.
Intentionally or not, seating arrangements sometimes reflect the structure of organisations. The chairperson at the head of a long table gives an impression of authority. This may not reflect the style of leadership the organisation wishes to present. Having people sitting in a circle is less hierarchical and can be used if the group wants to promote feelings of equality. A seating arrangement with tables in the shape of a “T” can also be useful. This allows people to see each other and also helps to discourage people from chatting to each other whilst business is going on.
Common difficulties and solutions
A common problem with meetings is that they are long and slow, or do not start or finish on time. Group members end up frustrated or angry and the agenda is never finished. To address these problems, try:
- Encouraging the group to take responsibility for setting time limits on the agenda items and the speakers.
- Tabling correspondence rather than reading it all at the meeting. The secretary and/or staff can draw attention to anything that needs a decision or is of special importance.
- Sending out minutes from the previous meeting before the meeting. The chairperson can then move for their acceptance, without them being read aloud at the meeting.
- Sending out reports in advance along with the previous minutes. The meeting can comment and deal with any particular issues arising from them.
- Rationalising the number of items on the agenda, delegating more work to sub-committees, or scheduling an extra meeting or two to catch up with business which is outstanding, but which deserves everyone’s input.
- Contacting everyone the day before the meeting to remind them of start and finish times.
- If people arrive late, either briefly stop and summarise the important business they have missed or ask someone in the meeting to do so quietly, so as not to disrupt the meeting.
- If people have to leave early, ask them if they have any comments to make regarding the remaining agenda items.
Keeping on track
Another issue with meetings is that the discussion can easily get off track, people get confused and the group finds it hard to focus on the agenda. Some useful strategies are:
- Suspending the discussion to allow the chairperson or another group member to summarise the discussion thus far. Remind the meeting of, and clarify, the main arguments. Using a white board or butcher’s paper can help people see the options which require a decision.
- Using time limits and making sure no one person, or group of people, dominates the discussion. Stop people saying the same thing over and over again in different ways.
- Asking the meeting to take a few minutes break at the table for people to collect their thoughts and maybe to write them down.
Techniques to encourage participation
An effective meeting is one where each person can have a say when they want to, though without dominating the discussion. Some techniques to help people participate include:
- Time limits for each agenda item, each speaker and/or for the whole meeting.
- Asking people to speak through the chair, that is to address their comments to the chairperson and not to each other.
- Preventing people from saying the same thing over and over again by allowing each person to speak only once to a particular item, except to answer questions.
- Using a ’round robin’, where each person has one minute to speak on an agenda item.
- Encouraging less dominant people to gain more confidence, through training in meeting skills, group dynamics, assertiveness, public speaking or self esteem.
- Giving out more information prior to the meeting and encouraging people to think about the issue and work out their opinions.
- Using the authority of the chair to point out when people appear to be dominating the discussion.
- Enforcing a rule which allows people to speak without interruption but within a time limit.
- Provide inductions to new members.
- Breaking into small groups to discuss an issue then reporting back as a large group to make the decision; quiet people will often feel more comfortable in a small group.
- Using the help of an interpreter when language stops people from joining in. Encourage people to speak slowly and clearly. It may be necessary to change the format and style of the meeting to fit the needs of these members. Try to recognise and be sensitive to cultural differences.
Sometimes meetings can run into problems with conflict, tensions or negative feelings amongst members. Strategies to help resolve problems include:
- Adjourning for a short break and asking the whole meeting to cool down.
- Asking for a short silence. This gives people a chance to collect their thoughts. During this time members could write down their ideas on the issues being discussed.
- Refocusing the meeting on unifying themes, such as the vision or goals of the organisation. Start again from first principles and work from there.
- Breaking into small groups where the factions are separated. Ask each group to brainstorm the issue and to pick out two or three important prime points. This also works when there is confusion about the issue.
- Adjourning the debate until the next meeting (or a special meeting). Distributing information prior to that meeting will give people time to discuss the issue informally. It’s a good idea to start the new discussion of the topic with a ’round robin’ so everyone knows what each other thinks.
- Stopping the discussion from drifting into personal conflicts, attacks or old battles. Make sure members criticise ideas, not the people holding them. Recognise there is a place for feelings, and if necessary make a special time for a mediator to deal with any negative feelings or personal conflicts which exist amongst the group.
- Enlisting the services of an outside neutral mediator for a few meetings. This may help the group move through the difficult issues.
The Community Door section on Resolving conflictÂ provides further information and strategies for dealing with such issues.
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.
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 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.