2 Types of meeting
Not all meetings are the same. They may differ in terms of their purpose, the expectations that people bring to them and the rights and responsibilities of those involved. They can range from formal business meetings to informal social meetings. This is important because the type of meeting affects how it is best run. Box 2 outlines different types of meeting.
Box 2 Different types of meeting
Business meetings are usually for making decisions, with a formal agenda where information is shared, issues discussed and decisions taken – for example, the meeting of a charity’s board of trustees. Business meetings often have a lot of items to get through and usually there is not time for long discussions, developing ideas or providing emotional support. They usually benefit from having a clear agenda, relevant information in advance and decisive chairing. Common problems include going on too long or, conversely, when items are rushed to fit them into the time available.
These meetings are used to consult a group of people before any decisions are made about an important issue that is likely to affect them.
It is important to be clear about the purposes of the consultation and how far those being consulted can influence any decisions. Otherwise, there is a danger that unrealistic expectations will be raised and those consulted will be unhappy with the outcomes.
To work well, consultation meetings need to be planned and have a clear brief. They should be chaired by someone who is good at encouraging people to contribute, but firm enough to keep the meeting on track and deal with any conflicts or disagreements.
The purpose of briefing meetings is to inform people about their work or important new changes that will affect their organisation. Planning and decision making has occurred elsewhere, and the briefing is to let people know what is happening, what is expected of them and to answer any questions they may have. Briefing meetings are common in larger organisations, where people are more likely to be unaware of what is happening elsewhere in the organisation.
Usually there is not enough time in business meetings to think about strategy or long-term plans. Planning takes time, and it is often better to delegate much of the detailed work to a smaller subgroup with a clear brief. However, at various stages it may also be appropriate to provide opportunities for a wider group of people to contribute – perhaps the organisation’s members, volunteers, users or board members.
At planning meetings it is important that people have time to think about, discuss and contribute creatively to the issues involved. Some organisations run periodic ‘away days’ for this purpose, where people will not be interrupted by everyday work.
These meetings are used to discuss and plan the work of a team. They are often smaller and less formal than a business meeting, and are usually led by the team leader or manager.
Many voluntary organisations in fields such as health and social care hold regular meetings for casework supervision, or more general support and discussion of the personal and emotional issues that may arise from working in stressful situations. These meetings require the development of trust, and time to explore what can be sensitive and difficult issues. It is often helpful if they are run by a trained facilitator. This type of meeting probably works best in face-to-face settings.
Many social meetings happen completely informally, where people chat, exchange personal news or information and gossip. Some organisations have regular social events, like a team lunch, outing or celebration. Social activities may also get tacked on to other meetings – for example socialising over refreshments before or after a meeting.
Of course, in practice life is not always as neat as this, and many meetings may combine different functions. So, for example, a business meeting may also be used to brief people or have a social side, such as people having lunch together or going to the pub after the meeting. One of the potential difficulties of combining different types of meeting is that those involved may be unclear about what is expected of them. So, for example, it is important to signal when moving from more informal discussions into a formal business meeting.