Meeting Basics/Preparation

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Agenda[edit]

A good agenda reflects the function of the meeting, because many of these functions are the same for any group staying together for a longer time a large part of the agenda can exist of standing items. An example may clarify this, many companies in Europe have a workscouncil from which representatives of the employees give advice to the management of their company. Their agenda might look something like this:

Agenda Workscouncil YourCompany

Date: 2004 October 16

Time: 11.15

Location: YourCompany Headquarters, Meeting Room 1

  1. Opening and Agenda
  2. Minutes Last Meeting
  3. Open Action Points
  4. Incoming Mail
  5. Outgoing Mail
  6. Implementation New Tax Rules on Company Cars for Private Use
    • Backgound: See IN2004-078, Finance Ministry, Tax Guide 2004
    • Proposal : See Attachment: P2004-10: "Ads on Our Cars to Keep YourCompany Rolling."
      The Chairman of our finance committee will present the proposal.
  7. Communication with Employees
    • Background: Via several routes complaints have reached the workscouncil that employees feel they don't get sufficient information on workscouncil matters.
      Proposal: The Chairman and two members (who?) will contribute a page to our company magazine and add a news section to the workscouncil website.
  8. Committee Updates
    1. Social Policies Committee
      1. New Child Care Provider
      2. New Year Party
    2. Work Conditions Committee
      1. Safety Inventory 2005
  9. Preparation Meeting with Management
    • Background: Management proposed agenda points see IN2004-201.
  10. Roundtable
  11. Closure

Why is this agenda as it is? The order is rational, as we hope to show.

Date, Time, Location[edit]

Well should we explain this? We suppose you would like the participants to be at the meeting. Therefore, we recommend to add these items to the agenda. Only change the date or time after sending out the agenda if you discover there is something important (a festival, a sports game, etc.) at the planned time that will stop a majority of the participants from coming to the meeting. Of course it is better if you are able to check for these obstacles in advance.

Opening and Agenda[edit]

Opening, this is often nothing more then a welcome to all participants. If there are new participants or it is the first meeting those new participants can be introduced here. The opening can however be a place to add a small identity related element. In the case of the workscouncil this does not apply, but the board of a poetry society could start every meeting with a poem.

Agenda, fix it well before the meeting, as an agenda point it is there as a last resort to make a change. Although there might be a reason to add or remove an agenda point, changes to the agenda should be a rare exception rather than the rule. To have an agenda point added during the meeting it should be very urgent, because most participants did not get a chance to inform themselves and will therefore not be able to participate with judgement in the discussion. If adding an agenda point is necessary it should probably be combined with a break in which the participants can prepare themselves.Removing an agenda point during the meeting can be an option if changes have removed the necessity of discussing it or if there is reason to assume there will be no time to deal with it. Even changes to an existing agenda before the meeting should be discouraged, because even if sent to the participants by mail or email these changes often fail to reach them, because they have developed habits of reading their mail only at certain time or simply because they have limited access to them.

Minutes Last Meeting[edit]

An opportunity to correct factual mistakes in the minutes of the previous meeting. Not an opportunity to restart discussions. These days the best way to deal with minutes is probably more direct: The minute taker can send the minutes to the participants as soon as possible after the meeting and gives the participants to point factual mistakes. After that the corrected minutes can be sent with the agenda.

Open Action Points[edit]

A list of things to be done, the list should at least indicate: what, when and who. This is the moment to indicate which points can be closed and to consider whether a task should be tranferred from one participant to another. For this agenda we assumed it is provided as an attachment, but if the list is short it can be simply included. The list is there to prevent the meetings from turning into a tea party, i.e. a gathering of people talking about the work without ever getting it done. Because this list shows which participants are performing the work it is also a useful instrument in getting everybody to take a fair share in the work.

Incoming Mail[edit]

A list of incoming mail, it is there to inform all participants, if they are interested they can pay a visit to the mail archive to have a look at the mail. The list should at least include the day it was received, who sent it and a short description of the content. The person making the agenda should go through the mail before making the agenda to see if anything needs to be addressed in the meeting. Because the person making the agenda has to go through the mail and also send the material for the meeting of to the participants, responsibility for handling correspondence is often put in his/her hands aswell.

Outgoing Mail[edit]

A list of outgoing mail. Participants should be informed about the mail that is sent on their behalf aswell. The list should at least include when correspondence was sent, to whom and a short description. Again of every item on this list a copy should be available in the mail archive. If it contains usefull information a copy of an important letter can be sent to all participants to whom the content is relevant.

Variable Agenda Points[edit]

In this agenda there are three of them. These are generally considered to be the main part of the meeting. If most time is spent on other agenda points, the agenda was probably not optimal or the chairman incapable of leading the meeting correctly or the participants not sufficiently disciplined to follow the chairman.

Because it is likely that an update from the committees is important for the meeting with management, the committee update is put before discussing the meeting with management. Generally, however, one would keep the non-standard agenda points together.

What are the important points to notice about these agenda points. First they indicate where you can find new relevant information or they give a short description it. Second they indicate a direction for solving the problem.

The relevant information can come from all kind of sources, for the agenda point `New Tax Rules on Company Cars for Private Use' this is an incoming piece of mail IN2004-78 ( this is the number by which you can find it in the archive) sent by the finance ministry containing an update on tax rules. In the ideal case the finance committee noticed the problem at the same time as management did and the proposal on the agenda was reached by a collaboration between management and the finance committee. In practice howevere there might reasons, good or bad, why such a collaboration with people outside is not possible and the proposal your group makes needs to negotiated with the other party. The proposal accepted in the meeting is then still subject to negotiations and might actually contain suggestions for a negotiation strategy aswell. For the agenda point `Communication with Employees' it is simply a remark which summarizes employee opinions that reached the workscouncil over the past few months, be it by email, mail or conversations. For the agenda point `Preparation Meeting with Management' it is a proposal for an agenda meeting sent by management. If management thinks the new tax rules are the employees problem they will not put it on the agenda and leave it to the alertness of the employees. If on the contrary they have already reached preliminary agreement with the finance committee they probably want to get it on the agenda so they can obtain certainty and can plan the work related to it. This is an important point about agenda's: in general the agenda points left out can convey at lot of information about the goals are of the agenda maker.

The proposals also vary a lot in style and detail. For the changing tax regulations it is a complete document which will also be further explained by the finance committees chairman. For the communication problems it is very simple and concrete and the main problem left is to find people who are willing and able to do it among the participants. For the agenda for the meeting with management, there is the managements proposal but no internal proposal. There are two good reasons not to have an internal proposal yet: first the proposal by management will probably have most of the agenda points the workscouncil would come forward with and therefore changing it will be ammending it, secondly probably only after dealing with the previous agenda points will it be clear which agenda points need to be added. It is a general rule of politeness to accept agenda points put forward by the other party and only add new agenda points. If this leads to time or other problems it is a good idea to ask the chairman or another participant who can act on behalf of the whole group to contact the chairman of the other group, in this case management, about the agenda.

Committees[edit]

Committees are an important instrument to structure work and we will come back to them. A meeting is often not the right place to do the real work, that is why this work is sometimes delegated to a committee. Many organizations, like the workcouncil in our example, often have permanent committees, because they are permanent they function largely independently but need to be able to report on the work they do. Because the end responsibility stays with the participants of the meeting they need to be able to judge the work of the committee and sometimes even confirm the decisions or decide between proposed alternatives.

Roundtable[edit]

An opportunity for all participants to briefly share factual information with all other participants. This is not a place for discussion!


Closure[edit]

Mostly a simple thank you and see you next time by the chairman, but see remarks made about the opening. This is also the right place to thank leaving participants and give them flowers.

Participants[edit]

Who should be invited for the meeting?

1. Everybody who by regulation has a right to be at the meeting.

These people should all be informed timely that a meeting is taking place and about what is on the agenda. If there are many people who have a right to be at the meeting but in practice they rarely do, this information should be sufficient. You will have to provide a place where they can access the relevant information. If this a situation that applies it is good practice to make a strict rule where and when you announce the meeting, especially if you don't know who these people are. If this group is small and practically everybody is always present it is easier to send the preparation material to all possible participants.

2. Everybody who by regulation is required or at least expected to be at the meeting.

These people all receive an agenda and the relevant background material and proposals. Where it should be noted that generally most incoming and outgoing mail is not relevant to the meeting!

3. People who need to give information to the meeting in person.

The works council meeting above mentions committee updates, if the committee member who is most suited to give the update is not a regular participant in the meeting this expert committee member can be invited for the committee update. If the other agenda points are not confidential or even stronger the meeting is public, then this guest can be allowed to be there for the whole meeting. If there are agenda points where the guest presence is not desired and the meeting is not public the guest can simply be called in for the one agenda point in which he gives information. In the case of an works council meeting is conceivable, although more likely to happen in a committee, that a Human Resources officer comes to explain a certain regulation. The role of the Human Resources officer is to support management, because of that one doesn't want to discuss a negotiation strategy in the his/her presence. Another example to explain this: if your society is in conflict with local government over a permit for adding a kitchen to your society building but you found a civil servant who is willing to explain the new subsidy regulations to you, it is better not to discuss the kitchen problem in his presence. Even if you know this civil servant can be trusted it is better not to put the loyalty conflict on him.

Who should not be invited?

1. Individuals with whom your organization or group has a conflict.

A meeting of your own group is not the place to solve a conflict with an individual, be it someone from outside or inside. It is better to talk to such an individual with a small number of people, where a small number is one or two and definitely not three. And two is really the best.

2. The Opponent in Negotiations.

Well this is almost trivial. However be aware of the third category of people that should be invited. Reality is seldom black and white and where you might have hard negotiations on some topics you might have peaceful cooperation with the same outside group on others topics. This leads to another important point to make about opponents in negotiations, it is important not to spoil personal relationships with people in the other group, so try to keep conflicts purely business.

Invitation[edit]

To get the participants to the meeting they need to be invited, or if an appointment was made at a previous meeting or via telephone they still need to receive an agenda and supplementary documents.

For small and/or well defined groups invitation, agenda and all other documents should be sent at least a week in advance of the meeting to all participants. If the group is very small, the meeting takes place at a fixed time and the participants agree to it you can shorten this period, but in all other situations a week is an absolute minimum. Of course if the meeting takes place every week, there is no other option but sending the agenda and documents at shorter notice.

For large and/or not well defined groups other methods apply, a possibility is to approach them through local papers, a poster in your street or apartment building. For these groups you should think about a creative way to approach them but always stay polite. If you don't know precisely who will be attending, you will have to start early with making announcements.

Don't forget to invite the guest partipants and to indicate to them when and where they are expected to join the meeting.