Meetings are an inevitable part of organisational life and they are a crucial aspect of communicating well both for the chair of the meetings and the participants. Providing information and consulting are key elements of voluntary organisations being accountable. For example, meetings allow issues to be discussed, information provided, different groups consulted, positive or difficult feedback given in supervision or appraisals, staff motivated and change communicated. In the past, meetings often took place in formal settings such as offices and meeting rooms and nearly always involved people meeting ‘face to face’. Times have changed though and meetings are just as likely to be in a café or all the participants joining the meeting by phone or video calling. Much of what has been covered here on communication will relate to meetings in terms of ensuring your message is clear and developing listening skills.
- Think about a meeting that you have been involved in that went really well. List the reasons why you think it worked well.
- Think about a meeting that you have been involved in that did not work well. List the reasons why you think it worked poorly.
Your answer will relate to your own experience, but reasons why meetings might go well include:
- the meeting has a clear purpose and the appropriate people are present
- people are prepared for the meeting
- the agenda is not too long
- the chair ensures that discussion keeps to the main issues, provides useful summaries of progress and makes sure people keep to the point
- people trust and respect each other’s opinions.
Conversely, some of the reasons why meetings do not go so well are:
- the agenda is very long
- the chair allows some individuals to dominate or not keep to the point and does not keep to time
- people are poorly prepared for the meeting, perhaps not having papers in advance or not having read them
- the meeting goes on too long without a break.
You may have thought of some other reasons why meetings are successful or not.
Meetings are a central part of running many voluntary organisations. However, meetings do have a tendency to 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, without compromising good communication between different groups.
Some of the possible advantages and disadvantages of meetings are shown in Box 5.
Box 5 Some advantages and disadvantages of meetings
Advantages – meetings can:
- 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 improve the communication and decision-making skills of those involved.
Disadvantages – meetings can:
- 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 – decisions can take a lot longer if it is necessary to wait for a meeting, and in the meantime opportunities may be lost
- lead to poor decisions or delay because of the need to try to reach agreement among many people
- dampen individual initiative and responsibility if too many decisions are taken by meetings.
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 can also be disseminated in a variety of other ways: through notice boards, newsletters, email, websites, online 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. Whatever the format of the meeting, all of the elements of good communication need to be put into place.