1.1 Why have meetings?
Meetings are a central part of running many voluntary organisations, so it may seem strange to ask ‘Why have them?’ However, meetings do have a tendency to proliferate. Once established, they have a habit of persisting and can take on a life of their own. As a result, it is worth asking periodically whether particular meetings are necessary or whether other means could be used to achieve the same ends. You may find you need to attend a meeting to discuss whether meetings are necessary!
Some of the possible advantages and disadvantages of meetings are shown in Box 1.
Box 1 Some advantages and disadvantages of meetings
- improve decision making by involving more points of view
- give a shared sense of ownership and commitment among participants
- facilitate good communication
- keep managers, staff and volunteers in touch with one another
- keep the organisation’s membership or service users involved
- help to improve the communication and decision-making skills of those involved
- allow participation in decision making.
- tie up people’s time, taking them away from other work
- be expensive – eight people meeting for an hour is the equivalent of a day’s work
- reduce speed and efficiency – it can often take a lot longer if it is necessary to wait for a meeting before making a decision, and in the meantime opportunities may be lost
- dampen individual initiative and responsibility if too many decisions are only made during meetings
- lead to poor decisions or delays because of the need to reach agreement among many people.
Activity 2 Was that meeting needed?
Think about two or three meetings in which you have been involved. For each meeting answer the following questions:
- How necessary do you think the meeting was?
- Could some or all of its work have been carried out in other ways?
Meetings are only one way of dealing with work, so it is important to think about whether alternatives may be better. For example:
- Some decisions can be delegated to individuals rather than taken at meetings.
- Information can be shared at meetings, but it can also be disseminated in a variety of other ways: through notice boards, newsletters, email, websites, discussion groups, etc.
- Consultations can also take place through one-to-one meetings, telephone calls, computer conferencing and emails.
- Support can be given through individual supervision or peer support, as well as in groups.
Even when meetings are necessary, it is worth asking whether everyone has to be physically present in the same room – particularly where this would involve people travelling long distances. It may be more efficient to hold a telephone or computer conference for some or all of the participants.