Meetings - Preparing, Supporting, Running
What Are Meetings For?
Meetings are one of the least well understood things in the Jewish student world. All too often meetings happen "because they always did" or "so that everyone can see each other" with no real clue as to aims. Meetings should be used primarily for three things:
It is important that meetings are used for these reasons, and not just a waste of time. However formal the meeting, it is always worth asking the question “What are we trying to achieve in this meeting?” before starting to meet.
The quality of meetings is often very low - with no clear aims, poor agendas, a weak chair etc. etc. It is possible to improve meetings that you are in by merely asking “What are we trying to achieve?” it is incredible how rarely that is asked!
Every meeting should have the following. These things are needed at all meetings - even if there are only two people there.
Preparation for meetings
Before a meeting, as well as ensuring that there is a suitable physical venue, and that people are coming, it is necessary to prepare. This can mean writing a formal agenda, writing reports, or just sitting down to think about what needs to come out of a meeting and what you are going to say. An agenda must be supplied to all those attending before the meeting begins. Ideally a time limit is placed for each item.
The Role of Chair
The Chair of a meeting is responsible for ensuring that it flows smoothly and most importantly that its aims are achieved. So, the Chair needs to:
A Chair needs to watch out for sniping, hidden agendas, and intimidation. A Chair needs to be able to suggest compromises, move discussions on, and cut people short politely. Chairing a meeting is difficult, but can - pretty much - be learnt as a skill.
Using the agenda
It is vitally important to use the agenda in running the meeting. Remember that a good agenda has action desired written by each agenda item. It is important that when running the meeting the Chair makes it clear that the aim of each discussion is only to obtain the required action. If a meeting is being used to get a steering committee for your Jewish student union Ball people shouldn't be picking the theme there and then - if they try the Chair needs to quickly and politely remind them to stick to the point. If you aren't chairing a meeting that is going off the point.
Order of discussion
There are four stages to discussion in dealing with an agenda item in a meeting. Sometimes not all are needed while discussing a particular point - but where they are all used it is important to see them as distinct. They are:
This is the stage of discussion where you make sure that everybody knows what is going on. They don't need to be experts on it - but if you want a reasonably democratic decision making process people need to know the basic facts. This is the part of the discussion where people ask things like "so, you said four people?" and "so, the speaker is charging $10 then?".
Evaluation and opinion
This stage of discussion is used for weighing up the facts and giving the opinions. It should probably be the longest part of the decision making process. People don't need to make concrete proposals in this section, but they should say what they think and why.
Concrete proposals should be clear enough for everyone to understand. So, after people giving their opinions say "thanks for your opinions, now we need some proposals so that we can decide something". A proposal needs to say what should be done after the meeting and when. Proposals are meant to reflect the opinions that are put forward earlier in the discussion.
It is for the Chair to (instinctively, often) decide how to make a decision. The Chair must balance getting things done and keeping people happy to make decisions in the right way.