Inclusive and Professional Meetings: A Few Guidelines

Posted on 07/25/2017 at 09:35 AM by Shannon Hoyle

Written by Dan Burden, AgMRC Program Specialist.

Running an effective meeting is more than just getting people together to talk at a particular time and place. Effective meetings have structure and order, a set time commitment and goals.  The best managers go into a meeting with set objectives and one or more concrete actionable items.  The best introductory and planning meetings vest the meeting participants in developing vision, planning, preparation, and execution of the tasks.

Ina a nutshell, the best and most effective meetings achieve the meeting's objective. In doing so, they take up a minimum amount of time and leave participants feeling that a sensible process was followed that achieved sound outcomes.

All professional businesses should have formal meetings conducted in a businesslike manner.  As a facilitator, one must recognize that most people feel incredible frustration when they feel their views ignored or their time is wasted.  If you develop a reputation for running efficient and successful meetings, it directly reflects on your reputation as a leader and potential career advancement. Parliamentary procedure is one tool that enables the chair to lead a group smoothly and efficiently in determining the wishes of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority.  It also serves to move the meeting along and avoid circuitous “go-nowhere” discussions.

Parliamentary procedure is appropriate for orderly decision making by any democratic group.  The most used system is Robert’s Rules of Order (http://robertsrules.com).  It is easily learned, but takes some practice to master.  There are courses, teachers and advisors on parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order.  Most state university extension services have staff who do this training or can direct boards to certified trainers.

The great Austrian pianist, poet and author Alfred Brendel once said, “The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.”  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach champions the following simple guidelines for simplifying Robert’s Rules of Order and keeping a meeting on track and inclusive:

  • Only one issue discussed at a time.
  • All members have equal and basic rights:
    • the right to vote,
    • the right to be heard,and the right to oppose. 
  • The rights of the minority must be protected.
  • No member can speak until recognized by the chairperson.
  • Every member can speak to the issue on the floor; however, no one can speak a second time as long as another wants to speak a first time. 
  • A majority vote decides an issue. 
  • The chairperson is strictly impartial.

Boldly print these rules on the reverse side of the sign if you have name placards for your participants.  At the beginning of the meeting call attention to the rules; then instruct your participants, that if they want to speak, to place their placard on end.  The chair will then recognizes the speakers in the with deference to those who have not yet contributed.

Good meetings take some prior planning.  Consider consulting with others before the meeting to plan topics and their order of coverage, key member involvement, following a published agenda (using Robert’s Rules of Order), and action plans for following through on meeting action items.  There are various agenda-assistance tools out there in the world.  These range from handouts for each participant that list the participants and contact information to more specialized checklists and agendas for advisory committees.  These can be specialized, but highly useful.  For example, there are templates   for initial “first-time” meetings, planning groups, formal- and non-formal advisory committees, and general meeting ground rules, ground rules for group discussions, and group brainstorming and group wrap-up (final) meetings.  One may want to consider electronic or written communications for absent committee members.

To prepare for the meeting, challenge yourself by considering a few things and jotting down a few notes:

  • Are the goals and purpose of the meeting to plan, discuss an issue, reach a decision, brainstorm, or update project status?  Write it down and have it in front of you during the meeting.
  • Note anything (equipment, materials, beverages) that you need for the meeting
  • Write down one or more simple ideas for getting the meeting off to a good start.
  • Think about a strategy engaging people; inclusive participation.
  • To move the meeting forward, break the meeting period into sections in which to generate particular results; with timely movement from section to section. 
  • Write down one or more simple ideas for positively ending the meeting.
  • Have a follow-up plan, perhaps “next steps,” that can be mentioned to the group.

In some important business meetings, for example, membership and board meetings, a reasonable quorum (the minimum percentage of members required to be present to conduct official business) must be present. This percentage of members required to be present as stated in the organization’s bylaws, and sometimes written into state statutes governing different business structures.  As membership expands, the percentage quorum may increase with the number of attending voting members.  Conversely, setting the quorum too high increases the risk of not getting enough voting members needed for critical timely action to address immediate decision-making needs.  If possible, invite only the people who should be there.  Those affected by a given situation, problem solvers, information providers, or your board members.

Create an agenda and a schedule and adhere to it.  At the start of the meeting strongly state the objective so that people have no doubt as to why they are there and why it is important that they are there; as well as note that you are starting and ending on time.  These things strongly communicates to your people that their engaged participation is valued and that you respect the valuable time they commit to the process.

If you have to print or project the agenda, do so.  Time is a precious resource and meetings are a necessary part of business planning, however, time wasted in a meeting is demoralizing to team members and fellow business professionals, because it can be the most obvious and excruciating form of wasted time.

Interrupt the windy colleague.  A person monopolizing a conversation destroys the process and mitigates solid outcomes.  So do people distracted by their phones, tablets and laptops.  No interruptions.  Be sure that everyone contributes or at least has an opportunity to do so.  Equally involving and engaging everyone and keeping on task strongly communicates to your people that everyone’s input and viewpoint is valuable.

A follow-up memo or e-mail that reiterate the goals, action items and important points of the meeting focuses people on necessary next steps, mitigates incongruity and underlines the importance of this and future engagement.  If you want to have a successful, professional meeting, always take the time to be thoughtful, prepared and efficient.  The reward for your professionalism will be solid and actionable outcomes.

Resources

Forbes; Seven Steps to Running the most Effective Meeting Possible  

Mind Tools: Running Effective Meetings: Establishing the Objective and Sticking to it.  

Iowa State University Extension to Communities:  Simplified Parliamentary Procedure.  

Forbes: 10-Steps to Effective Listening.  

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