Meeting Flow

Meeting FlowBy now I hope you have implemented meeting ground rules, set a schedule for the dates of your meetings, developed useful agendas (to include time limits for each discussion item) and selected a Meeting Manager.

Meeting Flow

Let’s now look at how a meeting should flow:

  1. Open the Meeting: Establish a habit of opening the meeting on time. This should be possible if you follow the tips in my article entitled “Stop Meeting Madness!!! Plan Your Meeting.”
  2. Agenda Review: Do a quick review of the agenda. Some groups have a policy that, except in emergency or rare situations, the group will not vote on an issue if that issue was added to the agenda between the time the agenda was distributed and the time of the meeting. Some groups empower the President with the authority to make this call.
  3. Review the Ground Rules: It is important to review them at each and every meeting.
  4. Approve Meeting Minutes: I will discuss minutes in more detail in a future article, but the value of the minutes as the official record of meetings is worthless if someone subsequently claims that events were different from the way they were recorded. You should ensure that everyone agrees that the decisions have been recorded accurately. Do this by asking for a show of hands.
  5. Routine Business: Deal with routine business, such as reports from standing committees or oversight activities. As noted in a previous article, the most effective groups send out this information in advance, and then ask “any questions” rather than wasting time at the meeting with an extensive oral report.
  6. Old Business/New Business: This is typically the “meat” of the meeting, where issues are discussed, motions are made, debated and decided upon. This is the part of the meeting where the Meeting Manager is critical – keeping the attendees on topic, controlling the amount of time spent on a topic, pushing attendees to make a motion (as opposed to rambling on and on), assuring that the motions are complete (i.e,. the motions include all relevant points related to the issue)
  7. Close the Meeting: The Meeting Manager should summarize the discussions and recap decisions, inform the participants of the time and location of the next meeting, make sure any outstanding items are noted for inclusion in the next meeting, remind the member of the confidential nature of the information discussed, and thank the participants for attending.

Reaching Decisions/Voting

I have observed that many groups have a problem reaching decisions at their meetings. Many options are presented and discussion goes around and around. While it is appropriate that a group consider a number of options to deal with an issue, at some point a decision needs to be made. Therefore I suggest that the Meeting Manager should always be pushing for someone to make a motion on the issue (in fact, occasionally I see some groups that have such a problem with overly long discussions that I suggest they do allow discussion on an issue until someone makes a motion!).

Some readers will have the opinion that using motions and voting are too “formal” for their group. These are the groups that fool themselves into thinking they have “consensus” on an issue when really individuals don’t want to have conflict at a meeting and therefore don’t speak up. They are also the groups that suffer from the “dirty little secret” I referred to in a previous article.

That’s why you should get into the following habit when dealing with issues:

  • Introduce the issue.
  • Allow some time for general discussion on the issue, while at the same time encouraging someone to make a motion and someone to second the motion. Once again the Meeting Manager should clarify the motion, make sure it is complete, and repeat the motion so that all understand it.
  • At that point the motion should be discussed. The Meeting Manager should keep the discussion focused on the motion at hand.
  • At some point, someone should call for a vote, and the group members should vote with a show of hands.

Yes, this process is a little more formal than the one many groups currently utilize. However, “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” This process allows the group to clearly understand what is voting on and make a decision.

In our next article I will discuss using secret ballots to improve voting and the efficiency of meetings.


Please contact me if you’d like to discuss this post.

Will Latham

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