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20 April 2011

Running effective committee meetings

Running effective committee meetings

Committees, committees - wouldn't the world be a better place without them? After all, Noah didn't need a committee to build the ark! Yet most churches and their projects have committees somewhere in the mix and are heavily dependent on them making good decisions. Despite this, few leaders have been taught the practical skills of running effective meetings. Instead, we're somehow expected to know how to do it and do it well. Some of us have learnt the hard way and the rest muddle through! Hopefully these tips will help...

Preparing for a meeting

  • Tempting as it is, don't leave preparation until the last minute
  • Make sure you know the committee's remit, to whom it's accountable, how many are required to make binding decisions, and any formal procedures to be followed (e.g. check any Terms of Reference, Constitution, or Memorandum & Articles of Association)
  • Set a realistic agenda with timings and objectives for each item
  • Be clear about which items need a decision, are for discussion, or information only
  • Make necessary background information available but not too much paper
  • Agree beforehand who will lead on certain topics and how long they've got
  • Be clear in your own mind about the style of meeting
  • Agree who will take notes of the meeting, the form these should take (e.g. decisions/actions, a verbatim report), and who should have copies (be clear about what is confidential and why)
  • Ask people to make sure they've read the papers beforehand
  • Set start and finish times to the meeting and stick to them
  • Ensure a suitable meeting room with enough space, supportive chairs, and adequate heating and ventilation
  • If equipment such as a projector is needed ensure it's in working order
  • Decide when refreshments will be needed and get someone else to organise it

Running a meeting

  • Start by outlining the purpose of the meeting, how discussion should be handled, and whether it is confidential
  • If necessary remind the group they are there to make collective decisions that benefit the whole
  • Agree the finishing time
  • Draw on different presentation methods for different types of item (e.g. oral or PowerPoint presentations, discussion papers with options, graphs, and people stories)
  • Ensure that any conflicts of interest are noted, and where necessary individuals do not participate in the discussion
  • Under each item remind people of the aim of the discussion
  • Ensure shared understanding before launching into discussion by checking whether there are questions for clarification
  • Try different approaches to assist active engagement (e.g. brainstorming ideas around the table, small breakout groups & reporting back, use of case studies, asking generally for contributions from those who haven't commented)
  • Move a discussion on to decision making by summarising the key points and either making a proposal or asking someone else to
  • Clearly state the agreed actions and decisions made for the minutes
  • Review the meeting at the end

Making effective decisions together

  • Be clear what the decision is that has to be made
  • Consider if it needs a formal resolution (e.g. buying a building, borrowing money) and if so have a copy ready to be signed at the meeting)
  • Make sure the relevant facts are known
  • Identify the possible risks in making the decision either way or postponing it
  • Identify the benefits
  • Give space for people to say how they feel
  • Explore alternatives to the proposal
  • Identify those who have a stake in the decision and their reactions
  • Make a clear decision
  • Agree what next in light of the decision made

Fran Beckett OBE
Consultant - Anthony Collins Solicitors