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A typical congregational board meeting
Keep Your Meeting on Time and on Task
Effective Meetings: Tips and Techniques

Smooth and efficient meetings require planning, structure, transparency...and practice!  It takes a lot of practice to be a good facilitator. Even more importantly, good facilitators don't go it alone--they ask other leaders to take on different roles to keep the meeting on schedule and on topic.

Know Your "Why" 

Every meeting should have a purpose.  Are you making a decision? Are you doing research as a committee of the board? Are you aligning different task forces or ministries?  

You should also be able to connect the purpose of each specific meeting to the larger purpose, mission and/or goals of your congregation.  Along with including your congregation's mission and vision on the agenda, you might also want to make the connection between each action item and part of your larger purpose (e.g.  Children's Chapel Renovation [Mission: we grow the faith of all ages] ). 

You will find that the meeting participants become more engaged when they see the interconnection between their work and the shared ministry of the congregation as a whole.

Know Your "Who"

Every group that meets should have a covenant, or some sort of document that articulates the group's norms. In the creation of this understanding, it's important to surface cultural differences in group participation.  Differences in personality,gender, work experience, ethnicity, ability, cognitive functioning etc. can lead to different expectations about how groups are "supposed" to function.  It will help your group in the long run if you recognize differences and are intentional about what your group norms will be, taking into account those differences. Plan that this covenant will be a living document, so that you can revise or add to it as your group lives into its shared norms.

  • Open the meeting with a chalice lighting with prayer or other spiritual grounding (or what ever is your congregation's theological practice) to remind yourselves of your larger purpose.
  • Review your covenant or ground rules, and empower the group to call each other back into covenant if needed
  • Assign meeting roles (e.g. facilitator, timekeeper, scribe, process observer) either at the beginning of each meeting, or at the end for the next meeting
  • The facilitator (which doesn't have to be the chair) leads the group through the agenda.
  • Depending on your group's culture, you may want to consider timed agenda. This empowers an assigned time keeper to pause the meeting when the allotted time is up and a discussion is still going, and the group can decide whether to add time to the agenda, or table the discussion. 
  • The scribe takes notes. If the meeting includes brainstorming or other generative discussions, using a flip chart will help everyone in the room remember what has been shared. If the meeting requires more traditional minutes, the scribe may want to use a computer and projector, so that--when motions are being read before a vote--visual folks can process the meaning.
  • The process observer is a participant in the meeting, but also pays attention to how the group as a whole functions in relationship to the group's covenant and agreed-upon group norms. They share their observations at the end of the meeting, then the members of the group are invited to reflect on their own functioning in the meeting, based on these (and their own) observations.

Know Your "How"

Effective leaders have developed good active listening (or compassionate communication) skills.  Groups who listen deeply to one another have a high level of trust and creativity, and less destructive conflict.  Here are a few tips:

  • Be "in the moment" when listening to each person
  • Notice your body posture (open, not closed)
  • Listen without judgment
  • Respond by sharing what you thought you heard, and be willing to be corrected
  • Ask clarifying questions, paying attention to your own biases, presuppositions and judgments
  • Try to match the cultural communication style of the speaker 
  • Affirm what you have heard and express appreciation for the exchange

Know Your "What"

You want to be both strategic and transparent in deciding what each meeting will involve.

  • Meet ahead of time with the other core leaders (minister, staff, executive team) to identify and prioritize what needs to be addressed in the upcoming meeting.
  • Sent out a clear agenda a few days before the meeting, with decisions needed and action items clearly marked 
  • Keep discussions on point and note when discussions have run their course. 
  • When you come to a result or consensus, summarize what happened and make sure it is recorded by the scribe.
  • Make sure that, for important decisions, proper parliamentary procedures are followed and minutes are taken.
  • Make sure that action items are assigned to specific people and have a specific deadline.  After the meeting, follow up with an email reminding group members of their commitments. (Because you are all volunteers, it doesn't hurt to follow up with a reminder email halfway between meetings.)

What the...?  (Problem Behavior)

Some groups have a member who dominates the conversation, who seems to have a personal agenda, or who seem to be at odds with the rest of the group. What can you do?

  • Conversation Dominators

    • The first time someone seems to be dominating a conversation, you can summarize what you have heard, thank them for sharing, and then request that the group make time for others to express their views.  Then you gently and respectfully invite the people who haven't shared yet into the conversation by saying things like, “What do you think about this, Raja?” or “Pedro, we haven’t heard from you yet.”
    • If someone seems to be habitually dominating the conversation, have a private conversation expressing what you have observed, how it is interfering with others' participation in the group, and then request that they change their behavior. Suggest that you develop a signal so you can let them know when their sharing is becoming a problem.
    • If this intervention doesn't work, have a sub-group meet with the person and set firm limits on their participation in the group.
  • Personal Agendas

    • The more mission-focused your congregation and meeting group is, the easier this is to address.
    • If you have a clear congregational mission, and an individual wants a different mission, you can point out that the congregation as a whole has endorsed their mission, and that the individual's desire--though worthwhile--does not meet the congregation's voted-upon priorities.
    • If you don't have a clear congregational mission, this situation may offer an invitation into discernment about what direction your congregation may want to go in the future.
  • At Odds

    • When one person seems to be at odds with the rest of the group, start with your covenant and your culture. Is there a disconnect with this person because they are not of the dominant culture of your congregation?
    • Keep communication channels open and as direct as possible. Talk to each other, not about each other.
    • If the conflict escalates, call in your UUA regional staff.

About the Author

  • Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) has served as a Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region since September of 2010. She serves congregation in Northeast Ohio and Western New York. She is part of the LeaderLab Design team providing Leadership Development resources and other trainings to congregations.

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.

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