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?

Introduction

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.

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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Train Meeting Members to answer Questions from the Chairperson and other Members

1 Observers of meetings will soon find few, if any, Members answer the questions of the Chairperson or other Members.

2 Thus Questioners lack the information which would help them decide just what they should do next to help the Meeting progress towards its objec­tives.

3 Usually a Chairperson will not ask Members of a Meeting what they want to do where the Chairperson has any strong feelings on the matter.

4 Thus, Members who answer a Chairperson’s question have a significantly higher chance of influencing the topics discussed and procedures used at a meeting than if they say nothing. Continue reading

Look for Situations/Motions where Meeting Members probably will agree

Look for Situations/Motions where Meeting Members probably will 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 that if No one speaks you will put the Motion – provided the straw vote indicates a high degree of Agreement.

1 Once the Group realise they all (or nearly all) agree, each individual Participant can adjust his/her behaviour accordingly.

2 Participants who agree, know they have support and that if they keep quiet, the Chairperson can take a vote sooner and they will spend less time on the topic.

3 Participants who disagree know that they have a chance to persuade others if they wish. They also know just who they have to persuade and how many.

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[1] ) 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 Chairpersons 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.

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[2] will mean that the Group has passed a particular motion. However the procedure does not guarantee that the Meeting will achieve high-quality decisions.

Some Disadvantages of Formal Meetings

6 The procedures laid down sometimes “strangle” a Group on the rules of debate. A Group may need to decide on something on which insufficient individual thought has occurred and a more-productive procedure would involve a discussion on the matter where one person can speak more than once on a topic.

7 A free group discussion allows: (a) exploration of various aspects of a motion (especially if particularly complex) and (b) the Group to consider a more complex but wider set of ideas.

8 The need to put a formal motion sometimes restricts the structure of a discussion.

     9 Examples A Group needs to decide what time to start its regular meeting. Someone moves that they start at 6.00 pm. A number of people favour a different time. Four people out of the ten Members vote for 6.00 pm; six people vote against it. Thus the voting means the motion fails.

10 The Chairperson then accepts another motion on the topic. Someone moves for a 7.00 pm start. Six people vote for 7.00 pm – thus passing the motion for a 7.00 pm start.

11 However a group discussion of the situation might have discovered that a greater number would have preferred to start at some other time – say 6.30 or 7.30.

12 A group discussion and the recording of the possibilities favoured by all Members would have shown all possibilities. Straw votes could have decided the most favoured time by a series of stages. The Group could approach the most- favoured decision by a series of splits along the lines of – who wants to start any time 6.30 or earlier. If the majority favour that idea the Group then has a definite time span within which to make a choice. Further split voting can reduce the time span still further. For example: “Who wants to start before 6.00 pm?”

13 In this case, the formal-motion approach hid the detailed desires of the Group. Further a Member might prefer 5.30 but next prefer 7.30. Thus he votes against 6.00 pm and against 7.00 pm. Then he finds the Group has decided on 7.00 pm and he does not know how many might have supported either of his favoured times.

14 A Member in a formal debate may speak early. Then she hears someone else speaking and thinks of an entirely different reason for opposing (or supporting) what she has said previously. However she has no right to put this idea before the Meeting. It could happen that no-one else has thought of her particular point and the Meeting would have made a far wiser decision if people had become aware of the particular point.

Formal Meetings cannot “Change Their Mind” within the one Meeting

15 One rule of formal meetings states that once the Meeting passes a motion it cannot reverse its decision within the same meeting. This point illustrates another weakness of formal meetings.

     16 Example. A Meeting passes a particular motion. However someone thinks of a particular problem or idea which suggests they should do something different. If the meeting uses the formal rules of debate then one person can stop the change. This person only has to point out that the Meeting has not right under its own rules (formal) to change the motion 

When Formal Meetings will have more Advantages than Informal Meetings

17 The advantages of a Formal Meeting will vary according to the knowledge Members have of its rules and their skill in using such rules.

18 Conference Participants skilled in participating well in a discussion will have a higher probability of achieving an effective Meeting or Conference if they do not use the formal rules of debate. However unless people have had some training in Conference Participation (along the lines suggested in other  notes) probably they will not accept that view. Only when they see a Conference using appropriate techniques and with skilled Participants will they appreciate the possibilities which skilled training in Conference Participation will produce in a Conference.

19 However, given the fact that most people have very little (if any) training in Conference Participation, Formal Meetings will often produce more results than Non-Formal Conferences. Nevertheless it will not prove easy to make a useful comparison. Formal Meetings will produce results and decisions but any real assessment of the value of different types of meetings should include the wisdom of the decisions made; i.e. the quality of the decisions, not just the quantity.

Most Meetings use a Semi-Formal Approach

20 Deciding on the best type of meeting has even more complexities than those already discussed. In practice few Meetings really use a complete Formal-Meeting approach. Invariably, in watching so-called Formal Meetings, an Observer would find that many variations exist.

     21 Examples. Quite often the Chairperson will remain neutral but strongly influence the Meeting to decide things in a certain way. Such Chairpersons will: suggest motions, indicate support or disagreement with a particular motion, try to persuade others to their own viewpoint, and even refuse to accept ideas from Members.

22 Often Leaders or one or more Participants will make use of the Formal-Meeting procedure when it suits them but ignore it when it does not.

23 Sometimes the Conference Members (or some of them) will become aware of the situation. Some may have a vague feeling that something does not appear to work well but they will have difficulty in suggesting specific additions, or deletions, to improve things.

A common Problem - the Chairperson equals the Chief Executive, President, etc.

24 In many cases the Chairperson of the Formal Meeting will also have a position in an Organisation which puts them in charge of the people attending the Meeting. Under these circumstances they will have little chance of influencing the Chairperson’s behaviour – if they want to reject such attempts.

25 They will increase their chances of influencing the Chairperson if they all become more knowledgeable about how Conferences operate and make a concerted effort to point out to the Official Leaders that they have “forgotten” various procedures. However probably it will take a fairly consistent and persistent approach by at least the majority of the Members to achieve much.

26 Thus the semi-formal meeting (a meeting which uses formal meeting procedures on some occasions) does not provide the advantages of a free discussion at all on many occasions. Often Members feel frustrated and the decision-making capacity of the Group (as compared with the Chairperson) becomes relatively low.

27 An exception occurs when the Chairperson does not feel strongly on a particular point. Under these circumstances the meeting can really discuss the matter. However will the Group recognise this situation? If they do, will they have the spirit or desire to put forward an effort which on previous occasions has proved of little value.

Meetings can formally vote to stop using the formal Rules of Debate

28 Members who find themselves in a situation using formal or semiformal approaches should remember the possibility of moving a motion which calls for discarding the rules of debate and allowing a round- table discussion on a particular problem for a given amount of time. Thus the Meeting “closes” in a formal sense for a given period of time and the Group can gain the advantages of an informal discussion.

Informal Meetings will usually function better if they use “Straw Votes”

29 In general, provided people know how to get the best out of a group discussion, an informal discussion will prove of most benefit. However this statement will prove true only if the Chairperson (Conference Leader) takes votes on appropriate matters at appropriate times. Thus they will use a straw vote quite regularly. A straw vote allows Members to indicate to other Members their present feelings about a particular situation without necessarily denying themselves the right to make further comments and to change their voting later. The straw vote indicates to everyone just how they should best arrange the next contributions on the particular topic because they know who tends to support or oppose various ideas and the size of each group.

30 It allows a Group to get agreement on parts of a motion without going through the detail of agreement or disagreement of a final nature with a particular motion.


[1] The Rules allow a “pro-forma” second - the Member supports the idea “for the sake of form” to allow discussions to take place.

[2] The procedure of some Meetings requires more than 50% for some decisions. For example, the expulsion of a Member might require two-thirds majority to pass such a motion.

How to chair Meetings well.

Introduction

1 Most meetings waste many minutes for those who attend. Just think of the improvement in productivity if people could eliminate only half of this wasted time.

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

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

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?

6 Do you believe that you talk for more than thirty per cent of the time of a meeting?

7 Do you allow two or more conversations to occur at once?

8 Do you lack a system that allows one Member to indicate to you, without disturbing the current Speaker, that he or she wishes to make a contribution?

9 Having arranged for some such system, do you then ignore the signal that you have acknowledged?

     10 Example.You arrange for Members to indicate their desire to contribute by raising their hands. You nod to the person to acknowledge you have seen the signal but then fail to ensure that the person gets the chance to contribute in his/her correct turn.

11 Do you take votes when people do not understand the issue on which they vote?

12 Do you call for a Yes vote without inquiring how many want to vote No?

13 Do you fail to have a motion written down and read out before taking a vote?

14 Do you allow the meeting to consider a proposition that consists of two parts so that a Member cannot vote one way on one part and a different way on the other part?

15 Do most of your contributions relate to the topics on the Agenda as compared with the procedure that the meeting should take?

16 Do you feel annoyed that the meeting has decided something that you oppose?

17 When a Meeting Member (i.e. not in the Chair) , have you failed to observe other Chairpersons and failed to identify what they do that annoys you and makes you feel so frustrated that you feel like not coming to the next meeting?

Conclusion

18 If you have answered “Yes” to over half of the above questions, you have a wonderful opportunity to:

     (a) improve your chairing of meetings

     (b) improve the productivity of your Organisation

     (c) improve the happiness of other people.

19 However, probably you will NOT grasp these opportunities unless you accept that a Chairperson should take the role of “servant of the meeting members” – not an autocratic dictator.

A Chairperson has obvious deficiencies.

What could a Participant do When –

P1 – A  Chairperson has  obvious  deficiencies

1 Useful approaches to helping a Chairperson with obvious deficiencies will vary with the type of deficiency.

2 In general, the approach involves suggesting some positive action to such Chairpersons. Often they will readily accept an idea because they do not know quite what to do and any suggestions will prove welcome to them. But sometimes they will see Participants who make suggestions as people who want to reduce the power (authority) of the Chairperson.

3 The following lists some examples of useful approaches.

S i t u a t I o n

W h a t    t o    s u g g e s t

4. The Group’s attitude to a major point seems unclear Mr Chairman – I suggest you take a straw vote on this matter.
5. The chairperson does not seem to understand the content of the discussion Madam Chair – I wonder if you would agree that the following summarises the situation – ……..OR I wonder if everyone would agree that this disagreement exists mainly because Tom and others believe ….. While the rest mainly believe ……. …..
6. The discussion appears “bogged down” on a minor matter. Mr Chairman – I suggest we should move off this minor matter. We have discussed t for a long time and no one appears to agree. IN any case, do we need to get agreement on this minor matter?
7. The discussion appears likely to get nowhere because no one has suggested a definite objective.
8. The chairperson has difficulty in putting forward a structure on which people can vote.
9. The Group has “butterflied”(many topics at the one time)  off the topic.