Poorly run meetings in the voluntary sector are an avoidable irritant

It’s an old chestnut of mine, but poorly run meetings are irritating. Indeed, when someone says you were “lucky” that you missed the last meeting, then something is very wrong.

My main gripe is that many meetings achieve very little. Perhaps I am just unfortunate, but they shouldn’t drag on until people start to leave. Nor should the discussion go off-topic and around in circles. I’ve seen agendas ignored, procedures misunderstood, and people getting hot under the collar (although not quite a match for Handforth Parish Council).

Sadly, the lack of any proposals for action means that nothing is agreed upon. Instead of decisions, matters are carried over to the next meeting. People leave the meeting frustrated, thinking about how their time could have been better spent.

This could be avoided if the chair invited those participating in the discussion to make a proposal. Alternatively, papers and other items presented for the agenda could include recommendations. At least this way, there will be a focus on the discussion and hopefully, a consensus or majority decision will be reached. Progress will have been made.

A good chair and proper planning are the keys to a good meeting. Understand the purpose of the meeting, know the agenda, read the papers, and be aware of contentious issues. Most importantly, identify those items where a decision may be needed, and where there are advance recommendations or proposals. By doing this the chair can steer meeting participants towards making a proposal and ultimately, reaching a decision.

Looking back to my student days, I remember attending regular student union meetings. They weren’t always interesting, and often topics had little to do with student life. But they always took decisions because every agenda item included a call for action.

I’m not saying meetings today should emulate a late 70s student union. But we can do better by concentrating on making informed and necessary decisions.

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