Successful Meetings

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 057
Publication Date: May 2005
Order#: 05-035
Last Reviewed: May 2010
History: Replaces OMAFRA Factsheet Effective Meetings 96-039
Written by: Denise Edwards - Agriculture Organization Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. Key Roles
  2. Before the Meeting
  3. Physical Set-Up
  4. At the Meeting
  5. Approaches to Decision Making
  6. Decision Making Processes
  7. Concluding the Meeting
  8. Evaluating the Meeting
  9. Common Questions About Meetings
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. Related Links


Face-to-face meetings are the most common way for groups to make decisions, solve problems, educate people, and plan programs and projects. Meetings can be productive and accomplish goals efficiently. However, an unproductive meeting can be frustrating and influence the enthusiasm and attitude of the group. This also affects the image of the organization in the community and can hamper your efforts in recruiting volunteers, partners and sponsors.

Effective meetings do not happen automatically. Planning the design, the equipment needed and who needs to be involved is critical to a meeting’;s success. Most resources about effective meetings refer to business meetings. There is a different dynamic for not-for-profit and volunteer organizations. This Factsheet discusses key components to help make not-for-profit organization meetings more effective.

Key Roles

Everyone at the meeting is responsible for its success. Some people have key roles to play including:

  • The Chairperson is responsible for ensuring that meetings are run effectively and efficiently. The chair must consider both the task functions of the group, i.e., the actions and decisions that are critical to achieve, and the maintenance functions – the relationships, welfare and harmony of the group. Both functions are important and will affect the organization’;s success. The chair has the lead role in planning, preparing, implementing and evaluating meetings and is responsible for starting and ending on time and involving members in the decisions and discussions
  • The Secretary helps the chair and is responsible for the legal record of decisions and group memory. The secretary ensures the meeting minutes are prepared, adopted and kept in a format that is available to the membership.
  • Committee chairs are responsible for researching issues and bringing options and recommendations to the meeting for decision.
  • Members should come to the meeting prepared, be on time, keep their discussion focused, and participate in the decision making. Side conversations should be held until the end of the meeting or social time as they can be very disruptive.

Before the Meeting

Define the purpose of the meeting. A clear purpose is required for every meeting. If the purpose is unclear, regularly scheduled meetings may not be needed. Determine if a meeting is the most effective way of getting the information across. Organizations must make good use of their volunteers’; time.

  • Plan the agenda. An agenda is a step-by-step outline of the topics to be discussed at the meeting. The chair should consult the secretary, treasurer and committee chairs when planning the agenda and organizing the materials and resources. Ensure that critical items are discussed first, with the appropriate time allowed.
  • Send out the agenda and background information prior to the meeting. This will remind people of the meeting, ensure important issues are not overlooked and help members focus on the issues and be prepared to discuss them.
  • Ensure all reports and information are available. Confirm that the required person or a suitable alternate is available to attend the meeting and make a report.
  • Notify everyone who needs to know about the meeting. Early notification is important to ensure that the required people can attend.

Physical Set-Up

All your best planning efforts can be wasted if you overlook the physical surroundings of your meeting. The following considerations will encourage participation:

  • Size of the room. How many people will attend the meeting? Too big a room gives an isolated feeling, and too small a room makes people feel cramped and uncomfortable.
  • Seating Arrangements. The arrangement will depend on the type of meeting.
    • Large meetings with limited speakers suit the classroom or theatre style (chairs in rows). This arrangement makes it easier for participants to hear and focus on the speakers. However, this arrangement limits interaction.
    • Long narrow boardroom tables tend to minimize participation.
    • Chairs and tables arranged in circles, U shapes or squares support increased interaction as people can see each other, and the chair is part of the group.
    • For meeting efficiency have the chairs arranged before the meeting and extras available if needed.

Do participants know one another? Nametags or table cards help people interact and assist those who have difficulty remembering names. New people could be assigned a host for the meeting to make them feel more comfortable and part of the group.

  • Other considerations.
    • How do you access the room?
    • Who has the key?
    • Where is the room in the building?
    • Don’;t forget the acoustics, temperature, ventilation, audio-visual equipment (including cords), lighting, parking, and location of rest rooms, coat racks and refreshments.

    At The Meeting

    • Set the ground rules. These agreements for participant behaviour will make meetings more efficient and effective. They should be discussed by the group and revisited periodically. Some ground rules are:
      • Everyone has equal rights and can participate.
      • The will of the majority is carried out.
      • The minority will be heard.
      • Only one topic will be considered at a time
      • Decision-making will be done fairly and impartially.
    • Start and end the meeting on time. Do not penalize the people who made the effort to be on time.
    • Use a warm-up activity. As people come together, they should move their thinking from being individuals to being part of a group. Use of an ice-breaker activity can help build the team
    • Make introductions. Welcome participants and ensure everyone knows everyone else, especially any newcomers.
    • Summarize the purpose of the meeting and the timelines for discussions. It can be useful to write the agenda and points about the issues on a blackboard or large piece of posted paper. This helps participants keep track of the discussion.
    • Use a speakers’; list. Make sure everyone who wants to speak is given the opportunity before anyone receives a second opportunity.
    • Encourage input from all participants. Sometimes a few participants dominate the discussion because they are more comfortable speaking in a group or are more passionate about the topic. The chairperson must ensure there is input from everyone and should try to draw quiet people into the discussion.
    • Keep the discussion focused on the topic. Avoid topic drift, when participants add comments that are irrelevant to the agenda. The comments are usually interesting, but if they are pursued, the conversation drifts further from the objective.
    • Use a "Parking Lot." When unrelated issues are raised, keep track of them on the flipchart or blackboard, visible to everyone. Participants will realize that these ideas and concerns will not be lost and can be considered at the appropriate time or put on the agenda for the next meeting.
    • Explain acronyms. Ensure short forms or initials are explained so that everyone is aware of what is being discussed.
    • Be aware of non-verbal behaviour. Body language can provide important clues as to the need for further discussion and/or the involvement and satisfaction of members. Respond to it accordingly.
    • Assess when the debate has run its course. The chairperson should summarize the discussion and ask for a vote or expression of consensus.
    • Use an "Action Sheet." Record the actions required, who is responsible and timelines for each action. The Action Sheet captures meeting decisions and reminds people to follow through on their commitments.

    Approaches to Decision Making

    Organizations should aim to hold fair and democratic meetings. The following two approaches are commonly used. If democratic processes are not being observed, it is wise for more formal processes to be introduced.

    • Parliamentary Procedure. This is a formal and defined procedure that is especially useful for larger groups. Using Roberts Rules of Order or other meeting procedure resources can give organizations a defined process to ensure the wishes of the majority are followed.
    • Consensus. This is an alternative decision-making method for smaller meetings, including board, executive or committee meetings. Consensus occurs when the participants, through discussion, come to an agreement on the decision. It eliminates the amendment process that parliamentary procedure dictates and encourages maximum participation. The minutes will reflect that the decision was made by consensus.

    Decision Making Processes

    Many times groups find themselves dominated by an individual or struggling to agree on a course of action. Using a structured process to discuss issues will help improve your meeting’;s efficiency and group performance. The following are brief outlines of some basic processes that the chairperson or members can facilitate.

    These processes work best with smaller groups, but large groups can be divided for discussion purposes. Each small group has its own facilitator, then the large group is reconvened, and the results discussed. These processes will encourage the quiet person to contribute and moderate the impact of more assertive individuals. More processes and details can be found in resources on facilitation techniques.

    Brainstorming. This process generates many spontaneous and diverse ideas in a short period of time. The leader clearly states the problem and outlines the rules which are:

    • No evaluation, criticism or discussion on any point.
    • Ideas are recorded until they are exhausted. Quantity counts. The more ideas, the greater the chance for a really good idea.
    • Build on the ideas of others. Pool your creativity.
    • Everyone participates.

    Ideas are recorded on a flipchart or blackboard for everyone to see. Following the brainstorming, the list is screened and points clarified. Members then choose their four or five priority items and decide on a course of action.

    SWOT Analysis. This method examines the Strengths, Weaknesses (internal factors), Opportunities and Threats (external influences) of a given issue or situation. The whole group can participate in the discussion, or subgroups can discuss each section, then report back to the larger group. This analysis helps the group determine direction.

    SCORE Analysis. This is a similar method to SWOT that examines issues using Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities, Risks and Expectations.

    TOPS Analysis. Also similar to SWOT, this method examines the Trends, Opportunities, Priorities and Strategies.

    Prioritizing Technique. Each participant thinks of ideas or solutions that are recorded on a flipchart or blackboard. From these ideas, the group develops various options or solutions. The following techniques can be used to arrive at the option that the majority supports:

    • Give each person in the group five sticky dots and have them place the dots beside the options they prefer. They can choose five individual options or place multiple dots on an option they feel strongly about. The option with the greatest number of dots will determine the course of action.
    • Participants are asked to rank the options using a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 points represents their first choice, 4 their second choice, etc. The desired option is the one that accumulates the highest total score.

    Force Field Analysis. This process is a way to graphically show the forces driving for change or forces restraining change in relation to a situation.

    • Draw a line vertically down the middle of the flipchart page and post so that everyone can see. The situation is stated clearly and written at the top.
    • Participants then list the forces that are driving (the pros) the change in the left column, and the forces restraining (the cons) the change in the right column.
    • A comparison of the driving and restraining forces helps participants determine the course of action.

    Concluding the Meeting

    • Review the Action Sheet. This ensures that the people who are assigned a task are clear on their responsibilities and timelines.
    • Confirm the date, time and location of the next meeting.

    Evaluating the Meeting

    After the meeting, review what went well, where improvements could be made and any problems to be addressed before the next meeting. If you have people being groomed for the chairperson position, such as vice chairs, this is a good time to get them involved. It is important that results and strategies for improvement be summarized and communicated to the participants.

    Take the opportunity for feedback. It reduces the possibility of repeating unproductive behaviours and procedures and shows respect for people’;s time.

    Some ideas for assessing your meeting are

    • Before the meeting is adjourned ask, "what went well" and "what could be improved."
    • Appoint someone to monitor the meeting process and report on it at the end. Rotate the responsibility among the members.
    • Have participants complete one of the numerous anonymous survey tools that are available on the Internet and discuss the results.

    Common Questions About Meetings

    How do we keep members aware of dates and deadlines for activities throughout the year? An Annual Planning Calendar is a breakdown, by month, of all the important dates of the organization, such as meeting dates, fundraising activities, events and deadlines for funding applications, etc. This tool keeps everyone informed of key activities and is a good recruitment and orientation tool to use with new members. The annual planning agenda should be reviewed and revised regularly throughout the year.

    When should we send a topic to committee? If only a few people are interested in the discussion of a topic or if the topic needs more research, it is best to send it to a committee. The committee should define the topic, develop options or alternatives, research the pros and cons for each option, then chose an alternative and bring the recommendation or proposal for the course of action to the next meeting.

    How do we deal with conflict in our meetings? Conflict can arise and it is not necessarily negative. It can lead to innovation and positive change. Some points to consider when conflict occurs:

    • Recognize there is conflict and identify the issue.
    • Focus on the issue, not the personality. Do not criticize individuals
    • Use a structured process to help the group discuss the issue, propose and assess solutions, and come to a resolution.
    • If the discussion gets too tense, take a short break and, when the meeting reconvenes, summarize the pros and cons for the issues and negotiate a solution.
    • In a sensitive meeting, a neutral facilitator can help the group resolve the issues.

    What happens when we don’;t have a quorum? A quorum is the minimum number of people needed for an organization to conduct its business. This number should be specified in the organization’;s constitution or bylaws. For small groups, it is usually the majority of members, i.e., if the board has 12 directors, a quorum would be seven. In large groups, it is the majority of the number that usually attends the meeting. If a meeting does not have a quorum, the people attending can hold discussions on issues, but no decisions can be made. A quorum should be present at the beginning of the meeting and remain through the entire meeting for a decision to be valid.

    If not having a quorum is an ongoing problem, the group should assess WHY people are not attending meetings.

    • Was the meeting really needed?
    • Was there a clearly defined purpose?
    • Do people have input into topics?
    • Did the participants receive adequate advance notice of the meeting, especially those that were not at the last meeting?
    • Was there major conflict with other community activities?
    • Is feedback on meeting effectiveness obtained from the membership and acted upon to ensure continued participation?

    It is helpful to follow up with those not attending and find out their reasons. When people are unable to attend, they should be encouraged to call ahead with their regrets so that the meeting could be rescheduled if necessary. If this situation persists, take steps to evaluate the organization more broadly.


    The author would like to acknowledge the following resources that were used in the development of this Factsheet and encourage people to refer to the related links listed below for more information.

    Board Development, United Way of Canada - see the Meeting Management Page

    Nathan Garber, Nathan Garber and Associates, "Checklist for the Chair." Workshop: How to Make Meetings More Effective, More Efficient and More Fun. 2004 - see Home Page

    "Running Effective Meetings," Rob Sandelin, Consenus Works!

    Saskatchewan Industry and Resources, Business Cooperative Services, 2004 - Home Page

    "Building Great Agendas" 3M Meeting Network - see the 3M Meeting Network Home Page

For more information:
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