Table of Contents
- Key Roles
- Before the Meeting
- Physical Set-Up
- At the Meeting
- Approaches to Decision Making
- Decision Making Processes
- Concluding the Meeting
- Evaluating the Meeting
- Common Questions About Meetings
- Related Links
Face-to-face meetings are the most common way for groups to make
decisions, solve problems, educate people, and plan programs and
projects. Meetings can be productive and accomplish goals efficiently.
However, an unproductive meeting can be frustrating and influence
the enthusiasm and attitude of the group. This also affects the
image of the organization in the community and can hamper your
efforts in recruiting volunteers, partners and sponsors.
Effective meetings do not happen automatically. Planning the
design, the equipment needed and who needs to be involved is critical
to a meetings success. Most resources about effective meetings
refer to business meetings. There is a different dynamic for not-for-profit
and volunteer organizations. This Factsheet discusses key components
to help make not-for-profit organization meetings more effective.
Everyone at the meeting is responsible for its success. Some
people have key roles to play including:
The Chairperson is responsible for ensuring that meetings
are run effectively and efficiently. The chair must consider
both the task functions of the group, i.e., the actions and
decisions that are critical to achieve, and the maintenance
functions the relationships, welfare and harmony of the
group. Both functions are important and will affect the organizations
success. The chair has the lead role in planning, preparing,
implementing and evaluating meetings and is responsible for
starting and ending on time and involving members in the decisions
The Secretary helps the chair and is responsible for
the legal record of decisions and group memory. The secretary
ensures the meeting minutes are prepared, adopted and kept in
a format that is available to the membership.
Committee chairs are responsible for researching issues and
bringing options and recommendations to the meeting for decision.
Members should come to the meeting prepared, be on time,
keep their discussion focused, and participate in the decision
making. Side conversations should be held until the end of the
meeting or social time as they can be very disruptive.
Before the Meeting
Define the purpose of the meeting. A clear purpose is required
for every meeting. If the purpose is unclear, regularly scheduled
meetings may not be needed. Determine if a meeting is the most
effective way of getting the information across. Organizations
must make good use of their volunteers time.
Plan the agenda. An agenda is a step-by-step outline of the
topics to be discussed at the meeting. The chair should consult
the secretary, treasurer and committee chairs when planning
the agenda and organizing the materials and resources. Ensure
that critical items are discussed first, with the appropriate
Send out the agenda and background information prior to the
meeting. This will remind people of the meeting, ensure
important issues are not overlooked and help members focus on
the issues and be prepared to discuss them.
Ensure all reports and information are available. Confirm
that the required person or a suitable alternate is available
to attend the meeting and make a report.
Notify everyone who needs to know about the meeting. Early
notification is important to ensure that the required people
All your best planning efforts can be wasted if you overlook
the physical surroundings of your meeting. The following considerations
will encourage participation:
Size of the room. How many people will attend the meeting?
Too big a room gives an isolated feeling, and too small a room
makes people feel cramped and uncomfortable.
Seating Arrangements. The arrangement will depend on the
type of meeting.
Large meetings with limited speakers suit the classroom
or theatre style (chairs in rows). This arrangement makes
it easier for participants to hear and focus on the speakers.
However, this arrangement limits interaction.
Long narrow boardroom tables tend to minimize participation.
Chairs and tables arranged in circles, U shapes or squares
support increased interaction as people can see each other,
and the chair is part of the group.
For meeting efficiency have the chairs arranged before
the meeting and extras available if needed.
Do participants know one another? Nametags or table cards help
people interact and assist those who have difficulty remembering
names. New people could be assigned a host for the meeting to
make them feel more comfortable and part of the group.
Where is the room in the building?
Dont forget the acoustics, temperature, ventilation,
audio-visual equipment (including cords), lighting, parking,
and location of rest rooms, coat racks and refreshments.
Set the ground rules. These agreements for participant behaviour
will make meetings more efficient and effective. They should
be discussed by the group and revisited periodically. Some ground
Everyone has equal rights and can participate.
The will of the majority is carried out.
The minority will be heard.
Only one topic will be considered at a time
Decision-making will be done fairly and impartially.
Start and end the meeting on time. Do not penalize the people
who made the effort to be on time.
Use a warm-up activity. As people come together, they
should move their thinking from being individuals to being part
of a group. Use of an ice-breaker activity can help build the
Make introductions. Welcome participants and ensure everyone
knows everyone else, especially any newcomers.
Summarize the purpose of the meeting and the timelines for
discussions. It can be useful to write the agenda and points
about the issues on a blackboard or large piece of posted paper.
This helps participants keep track of the discussion.
Use a speakers list. Make sure everyone who
wants to speak is given the opportunity before anyone receives
a second opportunity.
Encourage input from all participants. Sometimes a few participants
dominate the discussion because they are more comfortable speaking
in a group or are more passionate about the topic. The chairperson
must ensure there is input from everyone and should try to draw
quiet people into the discussion.
Keep the discussion focused on the topic. Avoid topic drift,
when participants add comments that are irrelevant to the agenda.
The comments are usually interesting, but if they are pursued,
the conversation drifts further from the objective.
Use a Parking Lot. When unrelated issues are
raised, keep track of them on the flipchart or blackboard,
visible to everyone. Participants will realize that these ideas
and concerns will not be lost and can be considered at the appropriate
time or put on the agenda for the next meeting.
Explain acronyms. Ensure short forms or initials are explained
so that everyone is aware of what is being discussed.
Be aware of non-verbal behaviour. Body language can
provide important clues as to the need for further discussion
and/or the involvement and satisfaction of members. Respond
to it accordingly.
Assess when the debate has run its course. The chairperson
should summarize the discussion and ask for a vote or expression
Use an Action Sheet. Record the actions required,
who is responsible and timelines for each action. The Action
Sheet captures meeting decisions and reminds people to follow
through on their commitments.
Approaches to Decision Making
Organizations should aim to hold fair and democratic meetings.
The following two approaches are commonly used. If democratic
processes are not being observed, it is wise for more formal processes
to be introduced.
Parliamentary Procedure. This is a formal and defined procedure
that is especially useful for larger groups. Using Roberts Rules
of Order or other meeting procedure resources can give organizations
a defined process to ensure the wishes of the majority are followed.
Consensus. This is an alternative decision-making method
for smaller meetings, including board, executive or committee
meetings. Consensus occurs when the participants, through discussion,
come to an agreement on the decision. It eliminates the amendment
process that parliamentary procedure dictates and encourages
maximum participation. The minutes will reflect that the decision
was made by consensus.
Decision Making Processes
Many times groups find themselves dominated by an individual
or struggling to agree on a course of action. Using a structured
process to discuss issues will help improve your meetings
efficiency and group performance. The following are brief outlines
of some basic processes that the chairperson or members can facilitate.
These processes work best with smaller groups, but large groups
can be divided for discussion purposes. Each small group has its
own facilitator, then the large group is reconvened, and the results
discussed. These processes will encourage the quiet person to
contribute and moderate the impact of more assertive individuals.
More processes and details can be found in resources on facilitation
Brainstorming. This process generates many spontaneous and diverse
ideas in a short period of time. The leader clearly states the
problem and outlines the rules which are:
No evaluation, criticism or discussion on any point.
Ideas are recorded until they are exhausted. Quantity counts.
The more ideas, the greater the chance for a really good idea.
Build on the ideas of others. Pool your creativity.
- Everyone participates.
Ideas are recorded on a flipchart or blackboard for everyone
to see. Following the brainstorming, the list is screened and
points clarified. Members then choose their four or five priority
items and decide on a course of action.
SWOT Analysis. This method examines the Strengths, Weaknesses
(internal factors), Opportunities and Threats (external influences)
of a given issue or situation. The whole group can participate
in the discussion, or subgroups can discuss each section, then
report back to the larger group. This analysis helps the group
SCORE Analysis. This is a similar method to SWOT that examines
issues using Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities, Risks and Expectations.
TOPS Analysis. Also similar to SWOT, this method examines the
Trends, Opportunities, Priorities and Strategies.
Prioritizing Technique. Each participant thinks of ideas or solutions
that are recorded on a flipchart or blackboard. From these ideas,
the group develops various options or solutions. The following
techniques can be used to arrive at the option that the majority
Give each person in the group five sticky dots and have them
place the dots beside the options they prefer. They can choose
five individual options or place multiple dots on an option
they feel strongly about. The option with the greatest number
of dots will determine the course of action.
Participants are asked to rank the options using a scale
of 1 to 5, where 5 points represents their first choice, 4 their
second choice, etc. The desired option is the one that accumulates
the highest total score.
Force Field Analysis. This process is a way to graphically show
the forces driving for change or forces restraining change in
relation to a situation.
Draw a line vertically down the middle of the flipchart page
and post so that everyone can see. The situation is stated clearly
and written at the top.
Participants then list the forces that are driving (the pros)
the change in the left column, and the forces restraining (the
cons) the change in the right column.
A comparison of the driving and restraining forces helps
participants determine the course of action.
Review the Action Sheet. This ensures that the people
who are assigned a task are clear on their responsibilities
Confirm the date, time and location of the next meeting.
Evaluating the Meeting
After the meeting, review what went well, where improvements
could be made and any problems to be addressed before the next
meeting. If you have people being groomed for the chairperson
position, such as vice chairs, this is a good time to get them
involved. It is important that results and strategies for improvement
be summarized and communicated to the participants.
Take the opportunity for feedback. It reduces the possibility
of repeating unproductive behaviours and procedures and shows
respect for peoples time.
Some ideas for assessing your meeting are
Before the meeting is adjourned ask, what went well
and what could be improved.
Appoint someone to monitor the meeting process and report
on it at the end. Rotate the responsibility among the members.
Have participants complete one of the numerous anonymous
survey tools that are available on the Internet and discuss
Common Questions About Meetings
How do we keep members aware of dates and deadlines for activities
throughout the year? An Annual Planning Calendar
is a breakdown, by month, of all the important dates of the organization,
such as meeting dates, fundraising activities, events and deadlines
for funding applications, etc. This tool keeps everyone informed
of key activities and is a good recruitment and orientation tool
to use with new members. The annual planning agenda should be
reviewed and revised regularly throughout the year.
When should we send a topic to committee? If only a few people
are interested in the discussion of a topic or if the topic needs
more research, it is best to send it to a committee. The committee
should define the topic, develop options or alternatives, research
the pros and cons for each option, then chose an alternative and
bring the recommendation or proposal for the course of action
to the next meeting.
How do we deal with conflict in our meetings? Conflict can arise
and it is not necessarily negative. It can lead to innovation
and positive change. Some points to consider when conflict occurs:
Recognize there is conflict and identify the issue.
Focus on the issue, not the personality. Do not criticize
Use a structured process to help the group discuss the issue,
propose and assess solutions, and come to a resolution.
If the discussion gets too tense, take a short break and,
when the meeting reconvenes, summarize the pros and cons for
the issues and negotiate a solution.
In a sensitive meeting, a neutral facilitator can help the
group resolve the issues.
What happens when we dont have a quorum? A quorum is the
minimum number of people needed for an organization to conduct
its business. This number should be specified in the organizations
constitution or bylaws. For small groups, it is usually the majority
of members, i.e., if the board has 12 directors, a quorum would
be seven. In large groups, it is the majority of the number that
usually attends the meeting. If a meeting does not have a quorum,
the people attending can hold discussions on issues, but no decisions
can be made. A quorum should be present at the beginning of the
meeting and remain through the entire meeting for a decision to
If not having a quorum is an ongoing problem, the group should
assess WHY people are not attending meetings.
Was the meeting really needed?
Was there a clearly defined purpose?
Do people have input into topics?
Did the participants receive adequate advance notice of the
meeting, especially those that were not at the last meeting?
Was there major conflict with other community activities?
Is feedback on meeting effectiveness obtained from the membership
and acted upon to ensure continued participation?
It is helpful to follow up with those not attending and find
out their reasons. When people are unable to attend, they should
be encouraged to call ahead with their regrets so that the meeting
could be rescheduled if necessary. If this situation persists,
take steps to evaluate the organization more broadly.
The author would like to acknowledge the following resources
that were used in the development of this Factsheet and encourage
people to refer to the related links listed below for more information.
Board Development, United Way of Canada - see the Meeting Management
Nathan Garber, Nathan Garber and Associates, Checklist
for the Chair. Workshop: How to Make Meetings More Effective,
More Efficient and More Fun. 2004 - see Home Page
Running Effective Meetings, Rob Sandelin, Consenus
Saskatchewan Industry and Resources, Business Cooperative Services,
2004 - Home Page
Building Great Agendas 3M Meeting Network - see the
3M Meeting Network Home Page
For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300