1. The choice of meeting site will affect who shows up. Look for a place that has familiarity, accessibility, and that is comfortable.
2. Set a meeting time that will be convenient for most of those that want to attend.
3. Prepare an agenda for the meeting. Some items will just be reports. Other items will require the group to make decisions about what to do and who will do it.
4. Call potential participants to remind them about the meeting. Even if people already know the date and place, you will be surprised how many more come if you make the calls.
5. Let those you call know about the agenda items. As you talk with people, you may need to revise the agenda, to incorporate their ideas.
Facilitator or chairperson’s role
1. Unless it is a very small group with just two or three people, there needs to be someone responsible for moving the meeting along.
2. Start the meeting on time and work to end the meeting on time. Meetings over an hour and a half become less and less productive as time goes on. People like short meetings.
3. Set basic ground rules such as one speaker at a time, no side conversations, and everyone gets a chance to speak.
4. Make sure the group respects everyone’s rights. Encourage shy people to speak. Try to calm the domineering.
5. After the group has a good chance to discuss an agenda item the facilitator summarizes the conclusion the group seems to have come to, asking the group members if they agree by saying something like, “Then, have we decided to….?”
6. The best facilitators listen to and respect the thinking of the group. Facilitators, who use meetings to ram through their own ideas end up facilitating very small meetings.
Beginning of the meeting
1. Start with introductions. Make sure everyone knows each other.
2. Appoint someone to take minutes of the meeting.
3. Do something to gather people together, such as asking everyone to briefly mention good things that have happened lately to them, or saying why they came to the meeting.
4. Review the agenda. Before the meeting write the agenda on large sheets of newsprint so that everyone can see, or on single sheets that can be passed out. This is the groups chance to add to or modify the agenda. After the agenda is set, the group needs to stick to it.
The meeting itself
1. Try to start with something that is easy to deal with. This will give the group a sense of accomplishment and energy.
2. Finish each item on the agenda before moving on to the next. If a decision is needed, try to get the group to focus and make the decision. Sometimes finishing an item means deciding to simply gather more information before a final decision.
3. A big item may need to be broken into several different parts to discuss one at a time to make it more manageable.
End of the meeting
1. Review for the group the decisions that have been made and the responsibilities undertaken by members of the group.
2. Have a period for announcements.
3. Have a brief evaluation. This can be simply asking each person to state both a frustrating thing and a good thing about the meeting.
4. After the meeting the person who took the minutes needs to write them up and, if possible, send them out to those who attended, or who usually attend. The minutes are a record of the decisions that were made. Every point in the discussion does not have to be written
down. Having minutes saves a group from re-making decisions, because you have a record of past decisions. Minutes are also valuable when it comes to making the next agenda.
Decision making process
Although majority vote is the most familiar way to make decisions, many groups use consensus or “sense of the meeting”. Consensus means that the group takes actions that everyone consents to. This does not mean that everyone is in perfect agreement, but that everyone can live with the decision. In rare instances a person decides to block agreement because an action would violate one’s principles. (This concept is tricky. A group can sometimes rethink something when someone states strongly that “this is wrong.” But the concept of blocking consensus can be used for manipulation. Generally members should strongly be urged to accept the group’s judgment.
Ideally, decisions made by consensus have the support of the entire group. The best thinking of the group has been incorporated into decisions. The process encourages creative ideas.
People get very frustrated by meetings that don’t accomplish anything. People like groups that follow through on decisions that get made.