Improving Meetings – Contents

When to use a Meeting and what sort’.

When should Organisations use a Meeting. (5)*

What type of Meeting should a Group use – Formal, Informal, or Semi Formal? (6)

The Role of a Chairman

How Should a Chairperson Act? (2)

Reducing the Frustration of Time Wasting of Meetings

Some Ideas for Reducing the Frustration of Meetings which take too Long to Achieve Objectives. (3)

Some Suggestions to Reduce the Problem: Meetings Waste Time of Some Members. (6)

The Role of Sub-Committees

Should Sub-Committes present a Unanimous Face? (4)

Some Ideas For Improving Meetings

Introduction. (7)

Pre-Meeting Ideas

Encourage Movers of Written Motions to include the reason for the motion in any written material they submit. (1)**

Encourage all Report Writers to set out Recommendations as a separate paragraph. Introduce each Recommendation with the word “Recommendation” and underline the recommendation. (1)

Prepare a standard layout for reports – or, at least, some aspects of reports. (1)

Encourage all Report Writers to number all paragraphs in reports. (1)

Train Members to vary their initial responses to a motion according to whether they favour of oppose a motion (2)

* The numbers in brackets show the number of pages in each Section.

** The numbers in the brackets following refer to the identification number used at the top right hand corner of each separate section.

Meeting Procedures – Major

Encourage each Meeting Participant to accept praise and/or blame for the successes/failures of meeting items and processes. (1)

Check all motions for clarity. (1) Avoid combining motions. (1)

Distinguish situations where spending meeting time would prove of little use. (1)

Train Meeting Members to answer questions from the Chairperson and other Members. (1)

Recognise situations where the argument between Meeting Members rates as a matter of opinion. Try to convince members that they have reached such a situation & that no-one can really gain agreement in such a situation. Train Members to recognise this situation and the use of this principle. (1)

Train all Members to appreciate, and use, straw votes. (1)

Look for situations/motions where Meeting Members probably agree. Take a straw vote – fairly early in the discussion ­to check the Group’s thinking on the topic that the Chairperson suspects will have Group agreement. Suggest to the Group that if no-one speaks you will put the motion ­provided the straw vote indicates a high degree of agreement. (1)

Ensure that all Members appreciate the distinction the meeting makes between accepting and adopting a report. (1)

Record all deferred topics under “matters arising”: on the agenda for the next meeting. (1)

Watch for the needs of new Members. (1)

Some Guidelines to help Meeting Members frame better the Structural Aspects of a Motion. (3)

Meeting Procedures – Minor

Stop passing motions which cover the receipts of reports and/or correspondence. (1)

Stop anyone reading out aloud a report already circulated in writing. (1)

Encourage Meeting Members to ask the recording Secretary to read motions before voting. (1)

Provide a display board (blackboard or whiteboard) for use of Meeting Members. (1)

Train Meeting Members to consider the needs of recording Secretaries. (1)

Recording Meeting

Stop recording who moves and seconds motions. (1) Stop recording titles and Christian names. (1)

Provide a column in the minutes to record the person(s) or committee(s) etc. who have to implement the actions recorded in the minutes opposite their names(s). (1)

Number all paragraphs in reports and minutes. (1)

Approaches to Recording What Happens at Meetings/ Conferences. (2)

Post Meeting Activities

Prepare a suitable procedure for ensuring that all relevant parties know on what matters (passed at meetings) they should take action. (1)


Improvement of Meetings – Questionnaire (4)

When should Organisations use a Meeting?

The Meaning Of “Meeting” As Used In These Notes

1 These notes use the following definition of a meeting: a group of People who can communicate orally with each other at the same time where,  at least, one person achieves communication with the others.

2 These notes only consider meetings of three or more people.

Aids to deciding When, and How to use Meetings

3 Readers may wish to skim over the next sections. They discuss the objectives of meetings and the advantages, disadvantages, and pitfalls of the various classes of meetings. The final section on Recommendations should prove most valuable.

4 A Reader who does not understand and/or has doubts about a particular recommendation may find more understanding and/or fewer doubts by reading parts of the earlier sections.

Broad Objectives For Meetings

5 A meeting can aim to pass information:

(a) From one Member to other Meeting Members. This “one Member” has often called the Meeting and will often have the role of Official Leader.

(b) From other Meeting Members to one Member.

(c) In both directions i.e. a two-way flow occurs which deserves the term “discussion”.

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What Type of Meeting should a Group use – Formal, Informal, or Semi-Formal

Knowledge of Meeting Types will help to choose the right Type of Meeting for particular Circumstances

1 Readers will make wiser decisions on the type of meeting to use, if they understand the advantages and disadvantages of various types of meetings.

Some Characteristics of Formal Meetings

2 Formal Meeting have a fairly fixed method of operating and use definite rules. People who attend these type of meeting gradually learn some of these rules. Fewer variations usually occur in these meetings as compared with the usual way less formal Meetings operate. Thus they provide a useful starting point for considering various other types of meetings.

3 Formal Meetings use the rules of debate. The following discusses some of the rules:

(a) One Member has to put forward (move) a positive action (motion) and have another Member second this motion (i.e. agree with the idea*) before the Meeting can discuss the idea (motion).

(b) Each Member can speak only once on any one motion, except for the Mover who can summarise their ideas (if they wish) to close the dis­cussion.

(c) Members who want to point out an error in the meeting’s procedure (point of order) can interrupt a Member and have their point settled ­provided the Chairperson accepts the point as a procedural one.

(d) A Member can interrupt a Member and suggest the Group closes (“gags”) the discussion by moving that “the motion be now put” (pro­vided this Member has not already spoken to the motion). In most cases, the Chairperson will take a vote on this procedure matter imme­diately. If passed, the Chairperson must then put the motion. (Some Chairpeople ignore the two-part aspect of this rule. When someone moves “the gag” they tend to put the motion under discussion rather than the “gag” motion.)

(e) The Chairperson should conduct the meeting in a neutral way: they should not indicate any support for, or opposition to, any mo­tion.

(f) The Meeting deals with the items in the order laid down in the Agenda – unless the Group passes a motion to change the order. Anyone can move to change the order of later items – at the close of any item.

* The Rules allow a “pro-forma” second – the Member supports the idea “for the sake of form” to allow discussion to take place.

Some Advantages of Formal Meetings

4 Formal meetings have the advantages that definite procedures exist and many Members have (or soon learn) a rough idea of these procedures. Usual­ly they respect the need to keep to the procedures – especially if the Chairperson and/or other Members remind them.

5 Compared with a Group which has no procedure, the use of Formal-Meeting Procedures tends to increase the chance that the Meeting will make some decisions. Motions will exist and people will agree that the majority decision* will mean that the Group has passed a particular motion. However the procedure does not guarantee that the Meeting will achieve high-Quality decisions.

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How should a Chairperson act?


1 Most meetings waste many minutes for those who attend. If people could eliminate only half of this wasted time a great improvement in productivity would occur.

2 While the cause lies in many areas, poor chairing contributes more than most.

3 Thus Chairpersons should examine their own behaviour by answering the following questions.


4 When you announce an agenda item or a new topic do you put your own view first?

5 On at least half the occasions, immediately after a Meeting Member has contributed something, do you make some comment?

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Some Ideas for reducing the Frustrations of Meetings which take too long to achieve their Objectives

1 Everyone has heard the complaint (or voiced it themselves) – “we took too long over that item on the Agenda:.

2 If many Meeting Members complain about a high proportion of the items then the Members feel unhappy with the way the Meeting functions. What then can Meeting Members do to improve everyone’s performance at Meetings?

What causes and remedies can meeting Members find, and use, to reduce their Unhappiness about Meetings

Encourage Members to Understand, Accept, and Use Two Important Ideas

3 Assumption: Different Meeting Members have different interests in the topics of any Meeting.

4 All Members should become more tolerant about the fact that what inter­ests them will not necessarily interest other Members.

5 Further, each Member has the right to contribute on topics which inter­est them. Meeting Members who have no interest in the topic can “switch off” from the discussion and try to do something else (e.g. doodle, sign correspondence, correct notes).

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Some Suggestions to reduce the Problem – Meetings waste the Time of some Members

Many Executives complain about Meetings

1 Mention “meetings and their usefulness” and executives usually indicate that many meetings fail or, at least, waste the time of many Members.

2 Why do meetings so often provoke this feeling of annoyance?

3 While many different specific reasons exist for having meetings, most appear to rate as justifiable. If so, why do Attendees feel annoyed at meetings? These notes attempt to establish the reasons and suggest methods for reducing the problems involved.

Reasons why Meetings waste Time – for (some of) their Members

One Meeting has Many Objectives and not all Members have an Interest in Each Objective.

4 One reason for dissatisfaction occurs because many meetings have many objectives; but all or most Meeting Members attend for the whole meeting i.e. each objective. Often this situation occurs because of the time and expense involved for Members to travel to the Meeting. For some objectives perhaps one third of the Meeting Group do not rate as essential Attendees. Thus, when true, these people feel annoyed because the meeting wastes their time.

Some Members have little or no Interest in Some Topics within the one Objective.

5 Even though interested in a particular objective, different Members have different interest in particular sub-objectives and/or topics within one objective.

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Should Sub Committees present a Unanimous Face

A Sub-committee at work

1 A seven-person committee spent many hours on a problem. They laboured to agree on the solution. After a while, Alan put forward an idea. Even­tually five of the Committee agreed to a modified version of his idea.

2 However Charlie and Dorothy did not agree. Thus the Committee spent more time discussing the problem.

3 Eventually Dorothy said: “We cannot go on discussing this matter forev­er. I have some doubts about the decision but, having listened to all your views, I do not feel sufficiently strongly to oppose the decision.”

4 Thus six people agreed. However Charlie maintained his strong opposi­tion.

5 Frank (the Chairman of the Sub-Committee) said: “I doubt if the Committee can come to a unanimous agreement no matter how much time we spend.”

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Some Ideas for improving Meetings


1 The ideas in these notes rest on the belief that:

(a) Meeting Participants need as much training as Meeting Chairpersons and

(b) Some formal meeting procedures prove Door from the viewpoint of (i) wise decision making, and (ii) saving time.

2 Some points refer directly to training Meeting Participants because a well-trained Group will help a Chairperson. Other points refer mainly to Meeting Chairpersons.

3 Many points relate to both Chairpersons and Participants, since Partici­pants should sometimes help a Chairperson to use appropriate meeting proce­dures – not necessarily formal meeting procedures. If the Chairperson forgets and/or does not think of an idea, a Participant should suggest the idea.

4 Usually both Chairpersons and Participants need to function well to ensure meetings achieve their objectives and do so efficiently.

5 Some ideas refer to aspects outside the meeting which sometimes affect what happens at a meeting.

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Encourage Movers of written Motions to include the Reason for the Motion in any written Material they submit

1 Most Meetings will make wiser decisions and need less time if whoever submits a written motion also includes the reasons behind the motion.

2 This approach will:

(a) allow Members to consider the motion in more detail before the Meeting;

(b) save meeting time – since the Mover of the motion should not have to explain the ideas all over again; and

(c) allow Members to have a better understanding of the motion.

3 Example. The mover of a written motion sent it out to Meeting Members before the Meeting but did not include any reasons for and/or background to, the motion. At the Meeting, the explanation of the need for the motion and/or the discussion about the motion led one Member to make the comment: “Why didn’t you tell us the motion aimed to fix up that problem. Now I favour it; before I did not”.

4 The non-inclusion of a reason proves much more wasteful if a meeting Member represents another body or sub-section of the Meeting’s Organisation and has to say: “Our Group/Branch/Section instructed me to vote against the motion but I believe our Group would have supported it if they had received the reasons for the motion that you have just given us”.

5 The above does not suggest that meetings cannot, or should not, accept motions without reasons. It does suggest that all Members should encourage movers of motions to supply reasons.

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Encourage all Report Writers to set out Recommendations as a Separate Paragraph

Introduce each recommendation with the word “recommendation” and underline the recommendation

1 All reports should highlight recommendations which the reporter will move (as a motion).

2 One approach would set out each recommendation as a separate paragraph and introduce each one with a heading “Recommendation”.

3 This approach would allow Members to pick out motions for consideration more easily. Members who speak to reports placed before the meeting will have less chance of losing them. The Chairperson can keep Reporters “on the point” by only allowing them to discuss items on which a Reporter wants some decision.

4 However, sometimes, a Chairperson should also allow some discussion of “just information”. This approach will prove useful where the topic in­cludes some very important information and Members might not realise its significance – if they prepared poorly for the meeting.