What does a well-run meeting look like?
Well-run meetings are the result of good preparation, effective facilitation and reliable records of thought-through decisions and next action steps. When there is lack of clarity about the purpose of the meeting, when the agenda is vague and there are no time limits on items, when there is poor facilitation and lack of closure, when a few people dominate the discussion and there is no evaluation at the end of the meeting, people get frustrated, attendance diminishes and precious energy is lost. Nothing inhibits collaboration more than poorly run meetings. The materials which follow are provided as resources to help collaborative groups work well together and accomplish goals.
Preparation is key to successful meetings. There are four general things to consider when planning a meeting: participants, purposes, physical environment and social tone. Who are the participants? Do they know each other? What are the goals of the meeting? What is the optimal physical environment for the meeting? How can we create a positive up lifting environment?
The following is a basic check list to use in preparing for a meeting.
What are the purposes of the meeting? What does it hope to accomplish?
What materials are needed for the meeting? Minutes? Reports? Prayers?
How is the room set up? Can all see and hear? If it is a small group that is meeting, are the tables and chairs set up to create a warm and friendly space? If there are to be observers at the meeting, can they see and hear all that is going on? Can observers participate? When? How? Is the space conducive to observer participation?
Are there refreshments prepared for a break or before or after the meeting?
Is the environment conducive to prayer? Is there a Crucifix, Bible and Candle in the prayer environment?
Be clear about the purposes of the meeting. (See sample in template.)
Structure the meeting so that it begins and ends on time. (Two hours is usually the maximum amount of time that a meeting can be effective.)
Invite a brief “check in” time at the beginning of each meeting. This allows people to say how they are coming into the meeting or share anything of significance which they want to share. (See questions in the template.)
Include conversations about faith in the prayer service. (See sample in template.)
Consider basing your prayer on a part of the readings from the Liturgy of the Word the Sunday before the meeting or the Sunday after the meeting. (See samples in the Prayer Section of this Guide.)
Depending upon the number of people in your meeting group, allow at least 15 minutes for prayer and faith sharing.
After check-in and prayer begin with acknowledging the previous minutes which should have been distributed before the meeting, and asking if there are any corrections.
Carefully time your agenda. Note for the Updates section on the Template Agenda that these should be brief. Invite questions for clarification, not discussion. If needed discussion is anticipated have a brief report in the update section and note there will be time for discussion later on in the agenda.
Be sure, if decisions are to be made at the meeting, that all the needed information is available and the participants had that information before the meeting.
Consider using the Meeting Agenda Template and adapting it to your needs.
Have someone prepared to lead prayer before the meeting.
Be sure to include on the agenda a brief time at the end of the meeting to evaluate it and/or have people say a phrase about how they are feeling leaving the meeting.
Send out the agenda and needed materials a week before the meeting.
Ask to be notified ahead of time if an expected participant is unable to attend.
These are examples of suggested norms for effective meetings to be considered by all meeting participants. They need to be adapted to your own situation and embraced by those with whom you are meeting.
Begin and end meetings on time.
Come prepared for the meeting, having read needed materials ahead of time.
Be a good listener, standing in the shoes of whoever is speaking, trying to understand things from him or her perspective.
Be open to new ideas and new ways of seeing things.
Respectfully respond, using “I” messages (I am puzzled; I am confused; I am disappointed; etc.) instead of “you” messages (You have changed what we agreed to…; you are ignoring a whole segment of the parish…; you are only concerned about…. etc.)
If you have an issue with someone or something, go directly to the person involved to discuss the concern, as opposed to talking to others about it.
Build on what others have said, when making your remarks.
Contribute in positive ways to the conversation and the group efforts.
Be sensitive to those who have not had a chance to speak before talking multiple times.
Deal with conflict respectfully focusing on the issues, not on the persons. Note steps in conflict resolution:
- Define the problem
- Brainstorm possible solutions
- Evaluate possible solutions
- Come to consensus on the best solution
- Implement the decision
- Evaluate the decision
Note conflicts may not be resolved in one meeting. However, conversations using the steps defined above, may lead to an effective resolution of the conflict over time.
Celebrate accomplishments regularly.
The following are tips for facilitating effective meetings:
Be familiar with the agenda and the time allotted for each item. (See Agenda Template)
If it is a new group, have name tags the first couple of times the group meets or permanent name place cards, so people can easily refer to each other by name.
If this is the first time a group has met, allow sufficient time for introductions. Ask for specific information to be shared depending on the purpose of the group, etc. Examples:
Please tell us your name, what parish you are from, something about your family and/or work. You may add a humorous request also, to break the ice, such as “What is your favorite food?”
Use a check-in question and ask for a brief response as part of orientation to the meeting such as:
Coming to this meeting I am feeling…
The best thing that happened to me last week was…
The good news that I want to share is…
The funniest thing I have heard recently is…
You may also add and ask for a response to: “This meeting will be worthwhile for me if…”
Ask someone at least a week before the meeting to prepare the prayer. (See samples in the Prayer Section of this guide. Be sure there is time for reflecting and sharing insights as part of the prayer.)
Ratify the agenda. Ask if there are other things to be added.
Review the purposes or goals of the agenda and process the meeting will follow: (See Agenda Template.)
Be sure everyone is invited to participate. Avoid letting anyone dominate the meeting.
At appropriate times ask for a moment of silence before beginning a discussion to give the introverts in the group a chance to think and feel comfortable speaking.
If there is conflict between participants, respectfully acknowledge it, consider using the conflict resolution steps noted in “Norms” or other methods. Sometimes “tabling” the issue and asking for more information is a helpful strategy. Discounting or ignoring conflict is not advantageous, as it creeps up on subtle negative ways and contributes to the dysfunction of a group.
If it looks like there is need for the group to spend more time on an issue than allotted on the agenda, ask the group if it wants to continue for a specific amount of time, like 10 minute, or table the rest of the discussion until the next meeting.
Keep the group on track so that they can accomplish their goals.
Encourage honesty by valuing all input.
Use “round robins” (going around the circle) to get input. Remind all that they can “pass” when it is their turn.
When appropriate rephrase or reframe a response or a question to bring greater clarity to the issue.
Discourage “side-bar” conversations which distract the group from the agenda.
If the agenda gets “bogged down,” despite your best efforts to keep it on track, ask the group to prioritize what remains, so that essentials get accomplished.
Ensure that minutes are taken at all meetings. (See Template for Minutes)
Ask for agenda items for the next meeting.
Be sure to have an evaluation, even if it is brief, at the end of each meeting to assess if the group feels the goals were accomplished and to discuss anything that could have made the meeting more successful.
Excerpted from Connected in the Spirit: General Organizational Resources for Ongoing Implementation and Progress Reports, © Archdiocese of Indianapolis and The Reid Group, 2013. Used with permission.