When chairing a meeting, such as a Departmental or Committee Meeting, remember that your responsibility is to achieve the purpose for which the meeting was called. You should therefore listen, not speak. Your role model is the Speaker in Parliament, who is in charge of proceedings but not necessarily of policy.
The exception is when you call the meeting yourself, when your purpose will usually be to enable or progress some project, in which you are the prime mover.
Here are some general guidelines to help you run the meeting efficiently and get the best possible outcome.
• What’s the purpose of the meeting? Is it to make decisions or just to discuss things?
• Who called the meeting? (If it is a regular one, you could question its purpose)
• What’s the agenda, and who is responsible for composing and circulating it?
• Who will be invited to attend … and why?
• What notes will you need from last time?
• Have the minutes of the last meeting been circulated in time for people to consider them?
• What outcomes do you want from this meeting?
• Plan a timetable for the agenda so that you can keep on track
Always start and close at the declared time. If people are late, too bad. Start on time.
Finish on time too. People have other commitments. Also, poor time keeping tends to diminish the status of the meeting and its chair person.
Start by explaining the Agenda and how you want the meeting run. For example, you may wish only one person to speak at a time, and that no one should speak until asked to do so by you. You may want all remarks to be addressed to/through the Chair (i.e. you).
Ensure that someone else is going to take notes and issue the minutes of the meeting.
You must establish your authority at the start, and whenever participants:
– speak over one another
– speak for too long
– stray from the subject
– become angry or abusive
Take a vote if necessary, to resolve an argument.
Summarise every issue before moving on, and get agreement on the action to be taken. That is what must go in the minutes. Arrange for the minutes to be circulated very soon after the meeting, especially if certain people have to take action. The minutes will remind them, and everyone can comment on their accuracy while the meeting is still fresh in their minds.
… getting involved in partisan issues
… arguing with any participant
… taking sides in a dispute
Finally, remember that it is best to hold meetings to make decisions, not to discuss things. Of course you will have discussions, but only so that you can make decisions. And if you can achieve your purpose by meeting with three or four people for ten minutes at the water cooler, that’s preferable to a formal meeting in the boardroom.
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