Groups, Committees, and Boardrooms: Making Meetings Run Smoother
By Joy Cagil
Due to the complexities of human nature, few groups can work together without problems. Whether it is the neighborhood association, the PTA, a company board or any legislative body, the importance of good communication and the leader's tact will play an important role on the outcome of a meeting.
When a boardroom or a group meeting is called, assuming that the meeting room's physical space, supplies and technology are already well taken care of, the chairperson or the leader will be the one to determine the success or failure of the project. A meeting will prove worthwhile when the participants are not too many or too few in number and the leader is attentive that everyone is able to express his ideas without interruption.
Generally speaking, a group of twelve people in one meeting is the highest number for success. If the number of people to attend a meeting exceeds that number, the leader must be prepared, eventually, to divide the group into committees for the sake of efficiency.
Choosing the right people for the meeting is very important. In addition to being good listeners, decision makers, and problem-solvers, participants should be familiar with the issues at hand.
A few pointers for the leaders, the chairpersons, or the company heads:
* Announce the time and place of the meeting early enough for the participants to prepare. Send a printed memo or a letter to each participant announcing the time, place, structure, and the mission of the meeting; never use a post-it for this purpose (I have seen that happen). If you expect a certain input from a certain member, send him a special memo or letter also.
* After calling the meeting to order, if there is a new member in the group or the members do not know each other, introduce the members or ask the members to introduce themselves.
*Give each participant a minute or two to address the group to say how that participant is feeling about the meeting or the issues at hand or to have him just say hello. Try not to let anyone talk too long; two or three sentences usually prove to be adequate for this purpose. This process recognizes the participants as people and puts them at ease.
* Verbally or in written form, present an agenda, schedule, or outline. Do not take it for granted that the memo you sent beforehand will be remembered to help you through the course of the meeting. On the agenda, do not forget to put the most important items first.
* While you are conducting the meeting, do not ask the participants to read their entire operational reports; instead, ask the persons to verbally summarize them. This will leave more time for the discussion and decision making processes. Most people lose their concentration while listening to operational reports. Copies of the reports may be distributed to the participants for their perusal at the beginning of the meeting or later.
* During the discussion try to conduct the meeting in such a way that, after each person's speech, a pause will be there to help members assimilate what they have heard; however, if the discussion has become a lively exchange of ideas, do not interrupt for the sake of a pause, unless the exchange has deviated into hostile dialogue.
* Let the participants explain their ideas on the issues freely, without censorship. Let them offer ideas and objections, if need be. For the members of the group to develop trust among themselves, they have to be able speak without restraint yet within the rules of proper conduct.
* If the discussion wanders away from the issues, lead the members back into the meeting's purpose. Never accuse any participant too harshly in front of others; if there is a reason for that, using indirect references, and in the selection of verbs, passive voice should provide a better way out than a direct accusation.
*At the close of the meeting, even if a few problems are left unsolved, acknowledge the efforts of the participants and sum up the meeting with a few words; then thank them and say goodbye. A successful closure will provide an important component for the meetings to follow as well as causing the participants leave with greater understanding, which they may integrate into future work.
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