Meeting Tips

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Contents

Intro

In spite of how it often seems, meetings are here to save us time. Properly facilitated they allow us to make good decisions as a group, and with good notes they allow us to remember those decisions and not have to repeat the process again and again. Proper facilitation takes preparation. This page is here to give facilitators and scribes the pointers they need to make meetings at Free Geek as useful and painless as possible.

Roles

An important point to remember is that the purpose of a meeting is to decide the business of the group, taking into account as many points of view as possible to arrive at the best possible decision. There are a few roles that people play to keep a meeting productive.

Facilitator
The facilitator's job is keep the conversation moving along, productive, and on topic.
Presenter
The presenter's job is catch people up on a topic at the outset, so the group doesn't have to rehash a conversation.
Scribe
The scribe's job is to record what happened, especially the decisions reached and committments made.

Common Problems

There are several problems that tend to pop up in meetings -- things that make the meeting unproductive. Fortunately, keeping an eye out for them is simple enough and there are some common sense solutions that can be applied.

Several people are talking at the same time.
Make people raise hands and call them in turn. Keep a list on the board if there are too many people to keep track of.
Someone is dominating the conversation.
Ask that people who have spoken not speak until everyone else has. If that doesn't help, use a go around instead of keeping a list. Sometimes just asking the person to hold back makes the most sense.
People are repeating each other's points.
Often all the facilitator needs to do is point out the obvious here. Remind people that they don't need to repeat each other's points.
People are going off topic.
The facilitator can remind people what the topic is. New items can be added to the end of the agenda.
People are holding back.
Call on people who haven't spoken, even if they havne't put their hands up.
People aren't listening to each other.
Ask people to summarize each other's points. This forces them to listen.
The meeting is too chaotic.
This ususally means that several of the above problems are happening at the same time, and usually means the faciliator isn't doing their job. Remind the facilitator that it's their job to keep the conversation on topic and productive.
People are unprepared.
There's not a lot that can be done at the meeting, but a good facilitator can be chosen for the next meeting and take extra time ahead of it to make certain that presenters are chosen, and then reminded (or nagged) into being ready next time.

Recipe for a good meeting

About a week before the meeting

Facilitator:

  • Make sure you will still be able to attend. If not, find someone to facilitate for you.
  • Read the agenda and the minutes from the previous meeting. (If the minutes can't be found, find out who took them and ask them to post the minutes.)
  • Read any followup messages on the email list
  • Post a message on the list calling for agenda items. Include:
    • the date and time of meeting,
    • who is scribe and facilitator,
    • any agenda items you already know about

Scribe:

  • Make sure you will still be able to attend. If not, find someone to scribe for you.

The day before the meeting

Facilitator:

  • Create the agenda. (Assemble all agenda items. Organize them into a final agenda, grouping related items together and plugging into the general template):
    • Review the previous meeting's minutes.
    • Review which other groups and committees have happened since the last meeting. (These are groups that are likely to report.)
    • Review the agenda from the previous meeting and add any noted carryovers, and any topics that still require action.
    • Review other relevant things, like the RT queue, email posts, and the wiki.
  • Line up presenters for anything on the agenda that seems like a major topic. (These people should be prepared to introduce the topic and answer questions about it.)

Before the meeting

Facilitator:

  • Incorporate any last minute items onto the agenda.
  • Print out copies of the agenda. Usually three copies:
    • one for the scribe,
    • one for yourself,
    • one to share with the group.

Presenter:

  • Talk to people who have been discussing your assigned topic.
  • Review relevant email lists, wiki pages, etc.
  • Make notes for yourself.

Scribe:

  • Get a laptop or a paper and pen/pencil for taking notes
  • Get a copy of the agenda from the facilitator
  • (If you're using a laptop for notes, it might be easy to start with an electronic copy of the agenda and plug notes into it, or to start with the general template.)

During the Meeting

Call the meeting to order

Facilitator:

  • Make sure there's a scribe taking attendance and ready to take notes.
  • Is everyone OK with the agenda? Any items missing?

Scribe:

  • Record the name of the meeting and the date.
  • List everyone in attendance (for some meetings also list if they were late). Ask for people's names if you don't know them.

Check in

Facilitator:

  • Ask how everyone's doing.
  • Get introductions from everyone. (At least get everyone's name. This helps the scribe take attendance. Also find out if they're new to the meeting.)
  • If there are new people, state the general purpose of the meeting and its scope. (For instance "We meet once a month to talk about overarching issues and set general policy. We don't deal with the details here. That happens in other meetings.")
  • If there are new people, explain to them the Conflict of Interest Policy. You might want to ask a staff member present to commit to explaining it further and getting it signed.

Scribe:

  • Write down who's there. (Come back to this section and add people's names as they arrive, also marking that they were late.)

Committments from Previous Meeting

Facilitator:

  • Go through each item and ask for a brief report.
    • If committments pertain to regular agenda items, ask that discussion be put off until that item's time.

Scribe:

  • Record the status of each item
    • Did it change owners?
    • Is it finished?
    • Is it a carryover? (If so, re-enter in the Future Committments section.)

Reports from Other Meeting

Facilitator:

  • Go through each group that met and ask for a brief report. (This gives people background information that might make later discussions easier.)
    • If committments pertain to regular agenda items, ask that any discussion be put off until that item's time.
    • If issues come up that aren't on the agenda, add a new item to New Business section.
    • (Minor items can be dealt with as they come up, but keep things moving.)

Scribe:

  • Record links to online minutes.
  • Record questions and answers.

Old Business

Facilitator:

  • Ask the presenter to introduce the topic. (This is not a time to "sell" a point of view -- just get everyone up to speed on the issues.)
  • Ask for questions to clarify the issue. (The presenter or another person should be allowed to answer, but keep things moving.)
  • Is there any discussion? (This is where opinions and concerns should first be raised.)
  • From time to time on complex or controversial subjects, it is advisable to state your sense of the where the issues are and what the concerns are. But the facilitator should not take sides in the debate -- especially if there are strong opinions.)
  • Are we ready for a formal proposal?
  • If not:
    • Does there need to be any action?
    • Does a smaller group need to hammer out a proposal?
    • Can it be done on and email list and/or wiki?
  • If we are ready for a proposal try to guide discussion towards making one or ask if anyone wants to take a stab at formulating one.
  • For each proposal:
    • Does everyone understand it?
    • What concerns do people have? How can it be changed to deal with those concerns?
    • If there appears to be agreement, make sure the proposal is in writing by asking the scribe to read it back. (This ensures that everyone is agreeing to the same thing.)
    • Ask one last time for any remaining concerns.
    • If there are none, state that we've reached a decision and have the scribe record it.
    • If there are concerns:
      • Can it be hammered out in a smaller group and decided at next meeting?
      • Are there alternate proposals to consider?
      • If there are concerns that cannot be address (for instance, if the decision cannot be put off) ask if anyone is blocking the decision.

Presenter:

  • Keep presentation brief and informative.
  • This is not a time to push a point of view, but rather summarize all the points of view and the discussion so far.
  • Ask for clarifying questions.
  • Do not let the conversation turn into a debate until everyone seems to understand the topic.

Scribe:

  • Record a name for the topic. (Make it easy for people to find what we were talking about.)
    • Record key points from discussion.
    • Record proposals (at least loose wording).
    • Record decisions.
      • Mark them clearly as decisions.
      • Make sure the wording is accurate.
      • Read them to the group. (This may seem like a waste of time, but it clarifies what decisions have been made, and therefore saves time in the long run.)

New Business

Facilitator:

  • (Same points at Old Business)

Presenter:

  • (Same points at Old Business)

Scribe:

  • (Same points at Old Business)

Future Commitments

Scribe (ongoing, throughout the meeting):

  • Record the item, its owner, and a time frame.

Next Meeting

Scribe:

  • Read aloud the committments that have come up during the meeting.
  • Record the name of the next scribe.
  • Record the name of the next facilitator.
  • Record any reporters (i.e. to Council Meeting or Staff Meeting).
  • Record next time and place of meeting.
  • Record any unfinished business for the next facilitator to include in the meeting.

After the Meeting

Scribe:

  • Post the minutes to the list associated with the group you're taking minutes for. (Do this as soon as possible, so the meeting is still fresh in people's minds and so you don't forget.)
    • Explicitly ask if anyone who was there has additions or clarifications.
    • Explicitly ask if anyone who wasn't there has any questions.
  • After any additions and clarifications have been incorporated, forward the minutes to the minutes list.

See also

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