4 Chairing meetings
Any meeting with more than a few people usually requires someone to take the lead in organising what it does. In small, informal meetings this may simply involve asking a few questions, such as: ‘Shall we start?’, ‘What have we got to talk about?’, ‘When shall we finish?’, ‘Who is going to take notes?’
At the other end of the spectrum is the traditional chair of formal meetings whose job is to run the meeting in accordance with given rules and procedures. He or she makes sure the necessary business is done and that any decisions are properly recorded. Chairing meetings is not just the responsibility of managers: asking someone to chair a meeting who has not done it before can be a good way to involve or empower others.
Whatever the style of chairing, it is important that it is:
- appropriate to the type of meeting
- a good fit with the culture or style of the organisation or group
- supported by the majority of the meeting’s members.
Table 1 contrasts the different functions carried out by two types of chair. The traditional chair is typical of formal meetings, while the facilitative chair is typical of a more informal, consensual style of meeting. However, in practice the distinction between these two styles of chairing is often not so clear-cut. Many traditional chairs will adopt some of the practices of facilitative chairs and vice versa.
Table 1 Contrasting styles of chairing
|Traditional chair||Facilitative chair|
|Main role and responsibilities||Main role and responsibilities|
t1: make sure the business gets done
t2: stay in charge
t3: remain neutral
f1: help the group decide what it wants to accomplish
f2: help the group carry this out
f3: avoid getting too emotionally involved
|Agenda and timekeeping||Agenda and timekeeping|
t4: open meeting and state purpose
t5: arrange who will introduce agenda items
t6: get through agenda on time
t7: close meeting
f4: seek and get agreement on agenda items
f5: keep meeting on agreed agenda
f6: keep track of time
t8: select speakers
t9: ask questions to clarify points or seek further explanations
t10: ensure people stick to the point
t11: control interruptions or side conversations
t12: handle disagreements
t13: close discussions
f7: encourage everyone to participate
f8: help people stick to the point
f9: make it safe to share views and feelings
f10: suggest ways to handle disagreements and conflict
f11: help clarify and summarise discussion
|Decision making||Decision making|
t14: ensure decisions are taken
t15: decide when a vote is needed
t16: conduct vote
t17: decide who will carry out actions
f12: look for areas of agreement
f13: test to see if there is agreement
f14: if consensus can’t be reached agree procedure for taking decision or moving forward
f15: decide who will carry out actions
|Formal rules||Formal rules|
t18: have a good knowledge of relevant rules
t19: make sure meeting is called in agreement with rules
t20: rule on points of order or procedure
|Outside meeting||Outside meeting|
t21: act on issues delegated to the chair
t22: make sure decisions are acted on
t23: represent the group
help group to decide:
f16: who will act on its behalf
f17: who will pursue decisions
f18: who will represent the group
Activity 4 Chairing compared
Think of a meeting you have been involved in, then answer the following questions:
- Write down the numbers of the activities in Table 1 that you think are currently carried out by the chair of this meeting (for example, t1, t3 … f4, etc.).
- Write down the numbers of any other activities you think ought to be carried out by the chair but are not currently.
- Do you think your chair adopts a mainly traditional or a mainly facilitative style? Or do they have a fairly even mixture of the two styles?
The activities the chair performs will probably depend in part on the type of meeting it is and the preferred style of the chair. If it is a formal business meeting, then it is more likely that the chair will adopt many aspects of the style of a traditional chair. The smaller and more informal the meeting, then the more likely it is that aspects of the style of a facilitative chair will be adopted. However, there are no hard-and-fast rules, and many chairs combine elements of both styles.
It is also important to remember that responsibility for the success of a meeting does not lie just with the chair, but also with the ordinary members, which we will look at next. No matter how good the chair, if members are ill-prepared or do not contribute appropriately, the outcome can be an ineffective meeting.