WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

I am always in meetings. Any tips on how to handle them better?

I know the feeling. We are very fond of meetings in the third sector but then I suspect most organisations are. We can be very sloppy about the need for and purpose of meetings. Meetings for meetings' sake and for the avoidance of making decisions are a waste of time, though we often do them.

Many external organisations or groups want to meet you. You feel under pressure to agree. This particularly applies to consultants and others who want to try and sell you things. Always consider whether a booked telephone conversation would be better.

You might also take advantage of telephone conference calls.

Internally, meetings often become too discursive and usually take up too much time. Discussions can quite easily be undermined by personal preferences and perceptions, not to mention differing political agendas. So it is always worth laying down some agreed ground rules to ensure when the team gets together the purpose and the potential outcomes are well understood. You might also try setting a time deadline for discussion.

If you are in charge of the meeting then there are five behavioural types that you have to stamp on:

- The Bully. The staff member who aggressively pushes their own ideas and preferences and hardly listens.

- The Wimp. Easily influenced and holds few strong convictions about anything.

- The Expert. Know-it-all who tries to use technical knowledge to gain ground.

- The Time Server. Talks to colleagues, and moves out to take calls or check post during the meeting.

- The Monk. Rarely makes a contribution or offers an opinion, takes lots of notes but does not speak even when they disagree.

Your main objective will be to ensure that all staff contribute to the meeting, biases and assumptions are avoided and that data presentation and discussion is dispassionate. And don't forget that you have to ensure effective communication of the outcome of meetings to everyone affected.

You will also need to have a good system for following up decisions. Lengthy minutes of meetings are probably not very helpful but key action points will be essential for follow-up.

And my very final tip, remember the value of fun. Humour helps us get through difficult times and enlivens boring meetings.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO).

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