“Effective meetings don’t happen by accident, they happen by design.” (Anonymous)
Note: This excellent article as well as several others in this series were originally created for Park Program Review and Development scholars at North Carolina State University. It is adapted for use within the context of an Orthodox Christian parish to assist the priest and lay leaders to more effectively and efficiently fulfill the mission of the local parish within the Orthodox Church.
A brief allocation of time and energy to read, digest and apply this material will result in saving incalculable months (if not years) of time over the course of a priest’s term of service spent in meandering, boring, poorly led and unfocused meetings. Rather, interesting meetings and effective action will be the result if the teaching is assiduously applied.
Common Meeting Problems
All of us have attended and led meetings that didn’t accomplish their objectives. Below, several common meeting problems due to planning and facilitation issues are presented.
Some meeting attendees are late or do not show up to the meeting.
Audiovisual equipment fails during the meeting.
The information presented at the meeting is confusing.
The information required to make a decision at a meeting is not gathered before the meeting, so the decision is put off until the next meeting.
Time runs out and the meeting objectives have not been met.
The purpose of the meeting and the expected meeting outcomes are not made clear, so the group is confused about what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to do it.
The meeting members get stuck discussing irrelevant information, or arguing for their ‘pet’ issues.
No process for decision-making is followed, so decisions are made in the favor of the most aggressive meeting participant.
Some attendees aggressively participate and others do not participate at all.
After a meeting, participants are not sure what they are supposed to do, or how it relates towhat others are doing.
A Model for Successful Meetings
Before preparing a meeting, first develop a definition of a successful meeting. Below, are presented several qualities of successful meetings, including:
Clearly Defined Meeting Purpose and Process.
Productivity and Direction.
Collaboration, Inclusion and Equality, Shared Responsibility.
Clearly Defined Meeting Purpose and Process:
The meeting purpose and objectives are clearly articulated and shared with all meeting participants via a meeting agenda in advance and these are restated at the beginning of the meeting.
Meeting attendance is requested and meeting participants confirm their attendance in advance.
All of the important participants are present at the meeting.
The meeting begins and ends on time.
Adhere to meeting content and process.
Gather feedback regarding the success of the meeting.
Productivity and Direction:
The meeting objectives are met.
An action plan is developed as a meeting outcome.
The group acts on the decisions made during the meeting.
Meeting participants are satisfied with the meeting and its outcomes.
Collaborative processes are implemented with compromise solutions, majority voting and other such processes avoided.
Collaboration, Inclusion and Equality, Shared Responsibility:
Attendees show up on time and do not leave early.
Every attendee actively participates in the meeting.
Participants are supportive and encouraging of each other.
The meeting is held at a convenient location and time, and the facilities are comfortable and contain all needed audiovisual capability.
All visual and other aids contribute to the productivity of the meeting.
Meeting minutes are sent soon after the meeting to each participant.
The meeting leader communicates personally with participants regarding their actions, resources needed, and satisfaction with the meeting.
When to Call a Meeting or Perhaps of Equal Importance, When Not to Call a Meeting
In groups, it’s possible to develop ideas, plans and solutions that no individual could generate. To meet these objectives, a well-planned group meeting can be an effective course of action. Meetings are tools, and like other tools, are not appropriate for every situation. Consider personal and group objectives before deciding to organize a meeting.
When to Call a Meeting:
The entire group is needed to make a decision, provide input or solve a problem.
It is necessary to have the participation of the entire team.
There is a need to personally communicate information to the group.
There is a need to clarify responsibilities or other project information.
There are multiple groups with differing views that are affected by a situation, or can provide valuable input to a situation.
When Not to Call a Meeting:
There is an objective to use a meeting to place personal responsibilities onto a group rather than acting individually, though all of the information and authority needed to act is already vested in the leader.
There does not appear to be any other solution to a problem or issue except to call a meeting.
The cost of the meeting exceeds its potential benefits.
The proposed outcomes of the meeting will be impossible to implement.
There is sensitive meeting content that would best be handled individually.
There isn’t sufficient time to prepare the meeting.
The issue has already been decided.
There are many alternatives to meetings that are appropriate when a formal meeting is not needed.
Alternatives to Meetings:
Act independently, if the leader has the information and authority to act.
Telephone calls and three-way or conference calls can be more convenient for potential meeting participants.
Email communication is very convenient for meeting participants. It allows individuals to work at their convenience, and it’s easy to save a record of the email.
Chat rooms or electronic meetings can be used to discuss issues in real time. Though less convenient for individuals, the group process is better than email.
If the leader does not have the information to act independently or does not know what to do, some independent information gathering is in order. Ask those with relevant expertise to conduct a survey or do additional research.
Meetings are expensive – if not in dollars, then in time. Therefore, when deciding whether or not tohold a meeting, conduct a quick cost-benefit analysis. The cost-benefit analysis should address threeprimary concerns:
1) What is the cost of this meeting? 2) What are the expected returns for this meeting? 3) Do the returns justify the cost?
The cost-benefit analysis can be done for the entire meeting, as well as for each agenda item. This can be particularly useful when there are many topics to cover and there is a need to narrow the agenda down to the most important topics.
When calculating the cost of a meeting, consider real costs and opportunity costs. Real costs include the amount of money spent on the facilities, transportation, wages paid for meeting time, and other financial costs.
Opportunity costs include what is lost due to meeting attendance. If it is not known how to estimate the opportunity costs, just add the total number of hours spent traveling and meeting, and call this “Hours of Work” which could be actual work, volunteer work, studying, or even participating in an extracurricular activity. Time is our most valuable asset, so any time spent preparing for and participating in meetings should be included in estimates.
The expected return on the meeting includes short and long-term benefits, and also, tangible and intangible benefits. The following are items that may be included in return on investment analysis:
Information-sharing that may lead to saving time and aggravation, or avoid misunderstandings and mistakes.
Problem-solving, and making collective decisions.
Money potentially earned or saved as an outcome of the meeting.
Time savings as a result of the meeting.
Building team consensus, increasing team member commitment to the project or parish.
Will the time spent in the proposed meeting generate a greater return than its combined real and opportunity costs? If the answer to this question is positive, then the cost of the meeting is justified. If the answer to this question is negative, then consider one of the alternatives to meetings to minimize the cost of the meeting, or attempt to generate greater return from the meeting.
There are many different types of meetings that need to be led by a priest in the broad range of parish life. Read on to learn about five different types of meetings.
Types of Meetings
All meetings are not alike. Different types of meetings have different purposes, participant requirements, processes and outcomes. Many meetings are hybrid versions of the basic meeting types. There are five basic types of meetings:
1) Information-Sharing Meetings
The main purpose of an information-sharing meeting is to share information among meeting participants. The meeting participants should include the people who need to receive the information.
2) Team-Building Meetings
When groups are unfamiliar with other group members, or will be working with this group over an extended period of time, team-building meetings can be valuable to enhance team productivity. With newly formed groups, team-building meetings have the objective of developing a common purpose among team members that will guide their future team efforts. With long-standing teams, team-building meetings can help to rejuvenate a stagnant team, or help to resolve interpersonal problems among team members.
3) Negotiation Meetings
Negotiation meetings have the purpose of bringing groups of participants together to reach an agreement or decision. The attendees for this sort of meeting include representatives from both sets of participants who have the required information and who possess the authority to make such decisions.
4) Problem-Solving Meetings
The purpose of problem-solving meetings is to identify and solve problems. These meetings are common among project teams and other groups in the course of their work together. Everyone who is affected by the problem and can contribute to its solution should be invited to attend problem-solving meetings.
5) Project-Management Meetings
There are usually several meetings required specifically for project management whenever a group of people is working together to deliver a product or service at a specified time. Project management meetings generally have the purpose of keeping the team on track to deliver a project by its due date. Everyone on the project team should be invited to participate in project-management meetings.
There are many roles that may be assigned and should be specified for the participants at each meeting held. Particularly for small meetings, a single person may serve several of the seven roles described below.
Individuals or organizations external to the group may sponsor, finance or provide facilities for the meetings. In these cases, it is critical to identify the sponsor of the meeting.
2) Meeting Leader
The person organizing and running a meeting is obviously the meeting leader. It is important to identify the person responsible for making all of the meeting arrangements, setting the agenda and inviting guests.
The facilitator is the key to the success of any meeting. The facilitator’s role is to control the process of the meeting, while not influencing its content. The facilitator encourages the participation of all attendees, is non-evaluative of various contributions, handles conflicts, and keeps the group on schedule. The facilitation role is best filled by one not in a position of authority.
Every meeting needs a recorder to take the meeting minutes. It may, for some meetings, be beneficial to record meeting minutes on flip charts or on a chalkboard to share notes during the meeting, and then have the recorder type and distribute meeting minutes later.
Experts may be brought into the meetings to provide information on their area of knowledge, or there may be meetings on topics that members of the group have expertise. In either case, if there is someone with specialized knowledge that is critical to the content of the meeting, it is important to identify that person as an expert for the rest of the group.
Guests are observers or infrequent participants at meetings. It is always appropriate to identify and recognize any guests that are attending the meetings.
If someone is responsible for making the final decisions, it is important to identify that person, and to discuss the process they will use to make the final decision. This person may be internal or external to the group.
Collaboration is more than teamwork, and more than group problem-solving or decision-making. Collaboration is working, particularly on an intellectual problem, with a group of people who have different and sometimes opposing points of view to arrive at a common goal or solution. Collaboration involves the creation of win/win situations, and building consensus among individuals. It does not require compromise. It involves generating solutions in which all parties participate enthusiastically and leave the situation with their needs met. It’s possible to foster collaboration in many ways:
Announce that decisions will be made by consensus, and define it as a unanimous agreement that everyone in the group can support.
Point out that no one will be coerced or will need to compromise what they value.
Express enthusiasm that the group is capable of reaching consensus.
State that the group will continue to search for alternatives or combinations of alternatives if consensus is not reached.
Know and communicate that consensus building takes time.
Know and communicate that reasonable, intelligent and knowledgeable people often do not agree.
Allow for full discussion of topics.
Use language that does not dichotomize any issue and that supports collaboration, such as, “I want everyone to feel good about this decision.”
The meeting leader and meeting facilitator serve several informal roles during meetings. They should be prepared to:
Be the ones who are responsible for the contributions of all meeting attendees.
Play the devil’s advocates, challenging consensus that appears to have resulted from ’groupthink’.
Build consensus, pointing out similar ideas, goals and values in the group.
Positively encourage, praise ideas, address group tension and conflict.
How many participants?
In general, smaller meetings are appropriate for all types of meetings, and are relatively informal. With small meetings, active participation of all attendees is easier to achieve and group dynamics are less problematic. As group size increases more opinions and views may contribute to the creative problem-solving of the group. However, larger meetings are more formal and active participation of all attendees may be problematic.
As meetings are planned, consider the expected outcomes of the meeting and the type of meeting to be held. Then decide how many participants to invite. When the participation of a large group of people is required, a series of smaller meetings may be more appropriate, followed by a larger, information-sharing meeting.
Who to Invite?
The following seven guidelines will help to determine whom to invite to the meeting:
Make sure that all sides of an issue are represented.
Make sure that all of the information needed is available.
Make sure that the individuals who need the information are present.
Make sure that key decision-makers and implementers are present for negotiating andproblem-solving meetings.
Make sure that the participation of any specialists, such as technical experts, required to contribute to the meeting, is secured.
If the meeting involves a team decision, make sure the entire team is present.
For problem-solving and project-management meetings, make sure all parties that have something at stake are invited to the meeting.
Following these steps will help to successfully navigate the invitation process:
1) Invite participants as soon as possible, but not before the meeting purpose, objectives, time and place have been determined.
2) Send individual invitations to participants. This can be accomplished easily by email for most participants, but formal invitations should be sent or telephone calls made to special and important guests.
3) Send a copy of the invitation to the participants’ administrative assistant, if applicable.
4) Request that meeting invitees respond to the invitation by a specific date.
5) Follow up personally with participants who do not respond by the specified date.
6) Follow up with a thank you to those participants who agree to attend.
7) Send a formal meeting agenda and additional information to all participants.
8) Send a meeting reminder a few days before the meeting.
9) Include the meeting date, time and place on all correspondence with participants.
This topic does not often receive much attention in the meeting planning literature. Here are some guidelines to consider when planning the meetings:
Show consideration for meeting attendees’ schedules.
Reserve a weekly team meeting time early in the project in case it is needed.
Avoid key dates and time periods on the parish calendar.
If immediate action is needed, schedule in the morning, so the rest of the day is available for task completion.
Schedule well in advance of deadlines rather than immediately before deadlines.
Schedule just after project deadlines to plan for the next stage of the project.
There are no hard and fast rules for the meeting length, but it is recommended that some attention be given to the following considerations:
Consider timeslots and meeting lengths that do not conflict with standard work times.
Consider the types of activities planned and the complexity of the material.
Remember to schedule time to ask and answer questions.
Meeting Location and Facilities
The place in which meetings are held should be convenient for all participants to attend, reducing both travel time and cost. The purpose of the meeting, the number of participants, the budget and the equipment needs will determine, to a large degree, the facility in which the meeting is held.
Reserve a meeting space well in advance of the actual meeting. All correspondence to the attendees, including the invitation, should announce the meeting location. Consider the following when determining the location.
Is internet access needed?
Neutral space in which to negotiate?
An area for small group discussions?
Auditorium or conference room-style seating?
What sort of noise is present in the meeting place?
Will it be possible to control the temperature?
One of the most important things to do when planning a meeting is to create an agenda and to share it with participants before the meeting occurs. All meeting invitees should know exactly what they will do at the meeting, why they should attend, and what they need to prepare for the meeting.
It is recommended that all meeting attendees receive a detailed meeting agenda at least two full days (and preferably one week) prior to the meeting. If extensive pre-meeting work is required before the meeting, the agenda should be delivered early enough for this preparation to be completed.
Information to Include:
The purpose of the meeting.
The desired outcomes or objectives.
The date, time, place and length of the meeting.
The meeting participants and their affiliations (e.g. “The Strategic Planning Committee”).
The participants’ roles.
The meeting format, or structure (How will decisions be made?).
Agenda items to be covered, the person responsible and time limit for each item.
Background material to be read before or during the meeting.
A list of items that attendees should bring to the meeting (documents, laptop).
Any special circumstances or notes.
Number of Agenda Items
Usually, in a 2-hour meeting, not more than five major items can be addressed.
In a 30-minute meeting, not more than one major item can be addressed.
Only include agenda items that the group can reasonably accomplish.
It is better to underestimate what the group can accomplish than to overestimate.
Ordering Agenda Items
Logical flow – if there is a logical order to the items to be addressed in the meeting, use it to order the topics.
Simple items first – address simple items, perhaps through a consent agenda, before more complex issues on the agenda.
By due date – if there is an order of items by date, this may help to order the items on the agenda.
Most of the items on the agenda will require prepared material. It is suggested that the following broad guidelines are used to determine the materials that need to be prepared.
For all types of meetings, select and develop the basic processes that will be used. It may be necessary to prepare supplementary materials to facilitate these processes. For instance, if individuals will be assigned to teams by pulling individual names from a hat, the names and the hat need to be prepared before the meeting.
When a meeting will involve problem-solving or planning reflect on the participants’ existing knowledge on the topic. This will help to determine what information needs to be distributed beforehand and what information needs to be available at the meeting itself.
When preparing for a negotiation, have available all of the information related to the contract or negotiation topic. This includes cost information, contract details, best case, worst case and most- likely case scenarios, and other relevant information.
When conducting team-building exercises, consider how well the team members know each other, whether they are having any difficult interactions, and what the team wants or needs to accomplish.
Text If too many visuals are used, there is a risk of diluting the impact of each visual material. Rather, only use visuals that clearly emphasize the main points.
Many meetings still adhere to Robert’s Rule of Order, which include Chairpersons, Points of Order, Old Business, New Business, Minutes, Motions, Ayes and Nays. This model of conducting meetings dates back to the parliamentary procedure of the 19th century. There are many problems with this formal meeting style, including that it is inflexible, is inappropriate for many meeting types and frankly, most people today simply have no idea how it is done!
Many meetings will be much less formal and require more collaboration among the participants than the traditional Rules of Order allow.
Starting a Meeting
Adhering to some basic practices while conducting a meeting can help in leading a productive and satisfying meeting for all involved.
At the Beginning of a Meeting
Begin the meeting on time.
Frame the purpose of the meeting with a prayer and opening statement.
Make any required introductions.
Review the agenda, purpose and objectives of the meeting, and make any last minute adjustments.
Establish meeting ground rules.
There are many ground rules that can be established for the meetings.
Meeting Ground Rules
Explain that the meeting is beginning and will end on time.
Gain agreement about the agenda items and the processes that will be used during the meeting.
Gain agreement about how final decisions will be made.
If using the recommended collaborative approach, explain the principles of collaboration and consensus to the group.
Ask for everyone’s active participation.
Request that no one interrupt someone who is speaking.
Explain that all comments should be nonjudgmental, but rather charitably and humbly offered.
Request that during certain periods, rules of participation be adhered to (such as, allow the speaker to finish before a question is asked).
Gain agreement on how conflicts will be managed.
Discuss how communication and follow-up will occur after the meeting.
Convey the expectation that all tasks will be completed on time.
In addition to meeting minutes, it is often helpful to keep a record of meeting content for the group. Every major contribution can be captured in this way to remind the group what has been suggested, which helps the group avoid redundancy.
After the ideas are captured, return to them and place marks next to items the groups evaluate, consider promising or reject, or keep track of to whom an action is assigned.
Another benefit of keeping an ongoing visual record of the meeting content is that off-topic ideas and comments can be placed onto a separate list. This list is often referred to as a parking lot. Group discussions sometimes go off-topic, which makes it difficult to maintain the meeting agenda. Near the end of the meeting, the group can decide whether they return to address items in the parking lot at subsequent meetings, or if these issues do not warrant the groups’ attention.
It is most effective to use a flip chart or screen and projector for the group memory as the actual notes taken during the meeting can be returned to during subsequent meetings. However, a chalkboard or whiteboard work just as well to establish the memory for the group.
Problem-solving is one of the activities best suited for group meetings. Groups can work together to solve problems in ways that individuals are unable to do. Bringing together individuals with different types of knowledge and experience is particularly beneficial when solving complex problems. In addition, the problem-solving process can be modified and used for a variety of team processes. Here is a suggested general form for the group problem-solving process. The steps of group problem- solving include:
Identify and describe the problem.
Identify who is affected by the problem.
Identify who is responsible for the problem.
Analyze the problem.
Generate criteria for the problem solution.
Generate alternative solutions.
Make a decision.
Develop action steps to implement the solution.
Follow up to measure the success of the solution.
The process the group will use to make the final decision should be specified before the problem- solving process begins. Categorize some methods of decision-making by the degree of collaboration they represent. A useful diagram representing collaboration and win and lose situations is presented below.
Consensus represents the highest degree of collaboration. Consensus decisions result in satisfaction with the outcome by all interested group members.
The win/lose methods are prevalent in decision-making situations. The common feature among these methods is that the result is a winner and a loser. The winner is satisfied with the result and the loser is prone to feel excluded and to be less willing to contribute to the implementation of the solution.
Most lose/lose methods such as strikes and riots are unlikely to occur in the context of a meeting. However, a common lose/lose method is called decision-by-default. This occurs when the group fails to make a decision, often exacerbating the problem. This method is called decision-by-default because by the time the group decides to act, it is too late and the opportunity to make a difference is lost.
See the companion article on facilitation, to gain additional knowledge on leading meetings. This facilitation article includes information on encouraging productive discussions and handling difficult situations.
If all of the recommendations in this training module are followed, the meetings are likely to become more satisfying and productive.
Some additional or alternative steps are described below for making meetings more interesting and even fun for the participants, without compromising productivity or professionalism.
Change Meeting Location
Periodically, schedule a meeting in one of these alternate locations:
Outside. On a nice day, this can be refreshing.
In someone’s home. These meetings are casual, with homemade refreshments.
Someplace there is action related to the meeting topic. For instance, if planning a service activity with a homeless shelter, hold a meeting at the shelter.
Inviting special guests can change the normal pace and sometimes inspire the members of the group.
Consider occasionally inviting:
A respected priest, bishop or full time church administrator.
A member of the community with experience or interest in the work at hand.
A content expert, community leader, or other respected individual.
Members of a novice group that may want to learn about the group’s work.
Potential philanthropists that could meaningfully advance the work.
Ice-breakers and Team-building Activities
Even in meetings that are not focused on team-building, including ice-breaker and team-building activities can be fun for meeting participants and will break the monotony of long, stressful or boring meetings.
Using the ideas presented above, consider introducing a surprise guest, or take the meeting outside at the last minute. Possibly tell a carefully considered joke or give a demonstration.
Change the Normal Process
With some imagination, throw a twist into the normal processes that keep the participants interested. Consider some of these possibilities:
Break the agenda into two sections and the group into two sections and hold a contest to see who completes their agenda items first.
Give small rewards, such as candy, for excellent contributions to the meeting.
Require that everyone in the group speak once before anyone speaks again.
Scheduling some activity during the meeting that requires the participants to move around is a great way to perk them up. Changing seating arrangements or even taking a 5-minute personal or snack break can be very beneficial to the meeting participants.
Ending the Meeting
Meetings should end on time. In addition, there are meeting-ending activities for which the leader will be primarily responsible.
During the last few minutes of the meeting, it is important to review the accomplishments of the meeting. Refer to the agenda to briefly summarize the important outcomes of each item. Discuss any items that were not addressed and those issues that arose during the meeting that will require further action by a member of the group.
Assigning Action Items
Before the meeting adjourns, action items should be assigned to group members. As the meeting leader, it may be the responsibility to delegate responsibilities to the members of the group. The art of delegation is described in yet another companion article on the subject. However, action items may also be assigned to volunteers, or by some other process that is decided in advance to implement.
Action items are activities that need to be completed in order for the group’s work to be implemented. Here ae some tips on effectively assigning action items.
State action items very clearly.
Make the level of detail or amount of output required explicit.
A deadline for completion should be specified (month, day and year).
The form in which the action item will be delivered (e.g. by email).
Assign each action to a specific person.
Identify any dependencies among the action items and plan for any required transfers of information or communication.
Have all of the action items and assignments recorded in the meeting minutes.
After the Meeting
The work is not complete when the meeting is adjourned. There are critical follow-up behaviors that will help to make sure the meetings and future meetings are successful. If meetings are followed up properly, the participants will be more likely to complete their assigned tasks, and attend the future meetings.
An evaluation of the success of the meeting is a critical step in leading meetings. Either choose to conduct an evaluation of the meeting before adjourning or do so very soon after the meeting ends. The main information to be collected about the meeting involves satisfaction with the meeting process and content. Gathering data about the success of the meetings will help to learn from the experiences as a meeting leader. When collecting evaluation data, a few guidelines are recommended:
Include the basic agenda information (name of meeting, date, time and purpose).
Present consistently worded statements and request that the participants respond to eachitem.
Use Likert-type scale items (from 1 to 5 with anchors such as strongly disagree and strongly agree, with neutral as the midpoint of the scale).
Do not use leading questions.
End with an open-ended item, requesting additional feedback and suggestions for future meetings.
Some meeting evaluation forms are found in the Stewardship Advocates Library.
Minutes should be distributed to all meeting participants, and other individuals who need to know what occurred at the meeting, very soon after the meeting ends. The most effective way to distribute minutes is to send typed minutes in an attachment via email. If there are other groups or individuals (such as a sponsor) that have an interest in the meeting, it may be wise to send them an abbreviated version of the meeting minutes rather than the complete document. We suggest the meeting minutes include the following:
The title, purpose and objectives of the meeting.
The day, time and location of the meeting.
A list of meeting attendees with affiliation, role and contact information.
Summary of the discussion that occurred during the meeting.
Notes regarding all issues about which there was disagreement.
A list of any decisions made.
A list of action items, including assignment and due date and delivery format.
A list of unresolved issues.
Whether or not the meeting leads to productivity may rest in part on the quality of the post-meeting communication with the participants. In addition to meeting minutes, there are several types of messages that should be considered in order to follow-up the meetings effectively.
Thank You Messages
If there were any special guests or if any of the participants made particularly helpful contributions to the meeting, send them a personal thank you message. Do not use a group thank you message.
For the participant to whom action items were assigned, it is important to follow up with each person to make sure they have the information they need to complete their assignment by the due date. Possibly check in with the participants to determine whether another meeting is needed. If necessary, follow-up personally with any participants involved in a conflict in the meeting, to gauge their comfort with the resolution.
Although it is likely that feedback was provided at the end of the meeting, it is a nice touch to send a feedback message to meeting participants expressing the satisfaction with the meeting, with the group, or with the progress as a team. Feedback messages may also be included in any of the three types of messages described above.