As averse as I usually am to ‘top x lists’ (‘top 10’, etc.) because they tend to be simplistic, and lead to superficial understanding or practice, I think this one has merit – not just because it’s mine. I’ve formulated it over many years of attending, and leading, meetings at different levels in schools, including different groups: pupils, parents, middle leaders, senior leaders, and hybrids of these. If i were to tell the story of the least effective meetings that I’ve attended, I could put the reasons for their lack of effectiveness into one of the following headings.
I would argue that considering the 6 ‘P’ words below would enhance the effectiveness of all meetings; if all attendees ascribe to them, then meetings are at their most productive:
Nothing startling about this one: ensuring everyone understands the purpose of the meeting brings, generally, a focus to everything that follows. It allows members to consider how their expertise relates to that purpose, and allows the committee membership to be decided by that purpose rather than some other, often bureaucratic, criterion.
An obvious one: if you’re required to attend a meeting, then you’re expected to come prepared. Usually, papers, or perhaps just an agenda, have been distributed beforehand. Each attendee should arrive having read any information provided, or at least considered the contribution they might make to an agenda item, given their role within the organisation or the expertise they have that has led to their attendance.
Clarifying from the outset the formalities of the meeting helps avoid wasted time and frustration. What are the terms of reference that need to be adhered to? Is a quorum needed to conduct business? How is absence from the meeting dealt with? It’s also the chairperson’s responsibility to set out – either at the start of the meeting, or beforehand – whether the meeting requires all comments to be made through the chairperson, or whether more direct discussion amongst members is acceptable, for example. Usually, it’s the degree to which the chairperson anticipates having to control interpersonal difficulties that informs this decision, in my experience. Other protocols include responsibility for taking and disseminating minutes and, at the meeting, for approving previous minutes, and so on. Another important protocol involves the way decisions are made: by majority vote, for example? It’s important to establish the competence of the meeting, too, in so far as its authority to make decisions – as opposed, say, to offer advice – needs to be understood.
Portable technologies, as much as I love them for their potential to make administrative tasks more efficient, have also made it much easier for meeting attendees to be distracted – just as we are concerned when pupils are not focused on the task at hand, so meeting organisers need to emphasise – perhaps as part of setting out meeting protocol – that each member is expected to be ‘present’: to be attending to the business of the meeting, not to emails, or lesson preparation, or holiday booking (I’ve seen them all). While it can be helpful to make notes as one goes, distributing scratch pads to individuals, and having succinct, comprehensive minutes taken, minimise the potential for distraction.
I’ve been to meetings where one or two people dominate discussions. They may hold the greatest expertise, or interest, in an item, or have the greatest investment in terms of ‘wins’ or ‘losses’. However, I would argue that contributions from all attendees should be sought, for two main reasons: first, it broadens the discussion in ways that might not have been anticipated; second, it means that those present can’t claim not to have had the chance to offer their views. It’s also helpful if there are attendees who may not be as confident, or experienced in meetings, as others: the chairperson is not only validating their attendance, but is giving them practice of participating in this kind of forum.
Finally – every meeting should end with action points: a sense of what progress is expected following the meeting (and, if part of a series, prior to the next). Even if subsequent meetings are required to continue unresolved discussions, the progress expected could include reflection on what has been said already or further research to tease out an issue, and so on.
For what it’s worth.