6.3 Running effective meetings
Do meetings rule you or do you rule meetings?
It is common to hear community members and leaders of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations complaining about meeting ‘burnout’. Even in small communities, the daily round of multiple meetings convened by agencies, consultants, government departments, non-government organisations, politicians and representative organisations can be staggering.
To get the most out of meetings that are important to you, it pays to make sure you take charge and know how to run meetings the way you want. This is where rules can help you.
6.3.1 A well-run meeting needs
Effective meetings need: proper notice, a quorum, a clear agenda, plain language briefing papers, minutes, an action update, good facilitation and to follow agreed procedures.
An organisation’s meetings are a fundamental part of the governance process. But there are some common problems, such as:
- no-one knows the ground rules
- a few people dominate the discussion
- the CEO runs the meeting
- some people never turn up
- there are no information papers
- no one records decisions
- the discussion goes off track all the time.
So people get frustrated, bored and the meeting doesn’t accomplish much.
Good meetings don’t just happen. A well-run meeting needs:
- a shared purpose
- an agenda
- agreed rules
- a quorum
- meeting minutes
- an effective chair or facilitator
- some healthy food and a sense of humour.
There are many different kinds of meetings and ways of running them. The focus in this section is specifically on the meetings of an organisation’s governing body.
Running Annual General Meetings – What WYDAC do
Every incorporated organisation needs to hold an annual general meeting (AGM). In this video, WYDAC managers explain the various steps and rules that must be followed before and during the annual general meeting.
We have provided a simple set of related templates that you can customise and use to run your governing body meetings.
The templates and tips are:
- a standard agenda format
- a procedure setting out some ground rules for decision making
- a template for doing a progress report on follow-up from meetings.
Template: Meeting agenda
You can adapt this template to suit your circumstances and needs. It allows time at meetings for members of the governing body to individually provide feedback on events and updates on issues raised by people in their community or nation.
Template: Decision making
This resource provides some tips on procedures and questions to ask before making decisions and a template for recording decisions made at meetings.
Template: Progress report on actions
It is not enough for a governing body to make good decisions. You need to make sure they are implemented. It is your responsibility to keep track of whether your decisions have been implemented or not, and to ensure you are regularly updated with that imformation at your meetings.
6.3.2 Meeting rules and lingo
Every governing body needs rules for running its meetings—often called the ‘rules of order’. They are usually set out in an organisation’s legal rules of incorporation.
But legal rules usually don’t tell you how to actually put the behaviour into practice. So it’s important for every governing body to develop its own customised rules for how its members meet and work together.
Every individual on the governing body should understand the meeting rules and know how to follow them. This should be included in regular governance and induction training.
There is a lot of technical lingo used about meeting rules and procedures. Here are some tips to make sense of it.
You can customise your meeting rules to cover:
- the language and format in which information is presented by managers, staff and visitors
- the behaviour and participation of the members of the governing body
- the role and behaviour of the chairperson
- values and standards for how you want to make decisions
- how visitors should behave when they attend your meetings.
The chairperson’s role is an important one. They are ‘in charge’ of running the meeting and ensuring that:
- all members of the governing body actively participate and behave according to the meeting rules
- every eligible person can express their views, ask questions and vote or make decisions
- discussions are inclusive, open and informed by accurate information
- decisions are fair, relevant and of a high standard
- differences of opinion don’t turn into conflict
- meetings follow the agenda and are productive.
When an experienced, confident chair runs a meeting things seem to run smoothly and the chairperson is hardly noticed. When a meeting is poorly chaired, everyone notices and everyone suffers.
Your agenda is like your roadmap—it shows you where you are headed in the meeting, and so helps you to stay on track. It is usually sent out ahead of the meeting and you can add items to it. Sometimes there are information papers about different items on the agenda.
It’s important to make sure there is always time allotted on the agenda (this is called a ‘standing item’) for individual members of the governing body to give feedback about relevant issues raised by their community or nation.
For the meeting of an incorporated governing body or an annual general meeting to be official, there must be enough members present to make it legal. This is referred to as a quorum. The number of people needed differs from one organisation to the next and is usually set out in an organisation’s constitution and rules.
The quorum must be present during the whole meeting. If a quorum is lost during the meeting, then decisions cannot be made. People can continue to discuss issues and share information, but they cannot make official decisions.
So it is important that members attend meetings or give notice if they can’t attend.
It is also a good idea to have a hard copy of the organisation’s constitution and meeting rules available at each meeting.
For corporations registered with ORIC, the CATSI Act adopts a model for quorums that states how many people make up a quorum depending on how many members the corporation has:
|20 or fewer members||two members|
|21 to 30 members||three members|
|31 to 40 members||four members|
|41 to 50 members||five members|
|51 to 60 members||six members|
|61 to 70 members||seven members|
|71 to 80 members||eight members|
|81 to 90 members||nine members|
|91 members or more||10 members|
Your minutes are the written record of the discussions, decisions, recommendations and actions proposed at your meeting.
An incorporated governing body must keep minutes of all its meetings—it’s the law. These days it is also a good idea for any informal community organisation to keep a written record of its collective decisions.
Meeting minutes don’t need to be long and wordy. The best minutes are:
- an accurate record of the meeting, summarising the main points of discussions
- a record of all decisions passed and abstentions
- about the agenda issues, and not about individual personalities
- objective, and not contain offensive comments or inappropriate discussion
- consistent in format so people become familiar with them
- readable and clearly laid out (use visual tools so that members can understand them)
- properly filed and available during subsequent meetings
- sensitive to cultural restrictions and protocols (such as not mentioning deceased people by name).
Template: Sample minutes
This template is an example of how the minutes of meetings can be recorded. You can adapt it to use at your own governing body meetings.
A motion is a proposal or idea for potential action or decision. ‘Moving’ a motion simply means someone puts the proposal forward to be voted on. Usually this is written down. Then people vote on it.
‘Voting’ can in fact be done in many different ways—for example, by a show of hands, verbal comment, secret ballot, consensus or a counted vote.
There are many complicated technical processes for passing motions and making decisions. Increasingly, organisations are using consensus approaches to making decisions and recording the result.
Whichever approach you chose, the important thing is that you set it down in your rules, so everyone knows how you go about making decisions and incoming new members can learn what to do.