Meetings have been considered very important from time immemorial. In fact, it could be said that virtually all of the great events in history resulted from meetings. Meetings undoubtedly started when the first cave dwellers met to make crude hunting plans. Today, meetings are essential means for achieving the communication necessary for the operation of virtually all organizations, large and small.
Just exactly what is a meeting? A meeting is a number of people assembled together, usually at a prestated date and time, to discuss a topic for the purpose of presenting information, swaying opinion, formulating a decision, practicing a skill, and/or developing a plan of action. Those at the meeting may belong to the same group, to different groups, or perhaps not to any group at all. A meeting might be called by an individual or by an organization. Usually the people meeting convene together physically within a designated area. Sometimes, however, meetings are held by people thousands of miles apart via telephone conference calls or video conferencing.
MAJOR TYPES OF MEETINGS
Many kinds of meetings are held in business. Probably the most common are staff meetings, project team meetings, process and procedure meetings, and quarterly meetings. In most large companies, hundreds of these meetings may occur weekly. Employees of all levels, including many below top-management level, attend them.
Most supervisors and managers hold weekly or biweekly staff meetings with their "direct reports." In these meetings, they communicate higher-level decisions that have been made, discuss progress of the team toward departmental or company goals, and answer any staff members' questions.
Project team meetings
In most large companies, there are often project teams developed and facilitated by project managers. They are often comprised of people from different departments whose purpose is to design, develop, and/or implement a new product, process, or system. Project team members are assigned certain tasks to complete within stipulated time frames. Many of these people serve as part-time project resources in addition to performing their "regular" jobs.
Process and procedure meetings
These meetings are usually called to communicate new processes and/or procedures to a group of people who are affected. The communication includes an overview of the new process or procedure, the effect on that particular group of people, and steps to follow. A presentation-style format is used, with the presenter serving as the facilitator. At the end, a question-and-answer period usually follows.
Quarterly earnings are announced at these meetings, along with detailed information on the financial status of the entire company and progress made toward strategic and departmental goals. Strategic direction changes are also communicated. A team of high-level executives ordinarily preside, using a presentation-style format.
METHODS OF ACHIEVING EFFECTIVE MEETINGS
In order for meetings to be successful, careful attention must be paid to a myriad of details. Two kinds of details are the most important: (1) thorough planning of premeeting activities and (2) skillful leadership during the meeting itself.
These steps should be taken before the meeting starts:
- Determine whether a meeting really needs to be held or whether the objectives could be achieved through phone calls or written communication.
- Prepare an agenda that includes the objective and the desired outcome of the meeting. Date, location, time of meeting, and a list of attendees should be included. A typical agenda includes the following: (a) call the meeting to order; (b) read the minutes of the previous meeting for approval, then correct errors and omissions; (c) hear reports of officers and committees; (d) discuss unfinished business; (e) take up new business; (f) adjourn. Announcements and other business not requiring a vote may come at the beginning or end of the meeting. If possible, the estimated time for each agenda item should be listed.
- Distribute the agenda to the participants, providing ample time for them to review the agenda/prework prior to the meeting. Any applicable prework should be attached to the agenda. Roles should be clear to the participants: input providers, decision makers, or both. Persons who will be presenting reports should be contacted to ensure that they will be ready.
- Determine who will facilitate (preside over) the meeting. This could be anyone present, not necessarily the highest-level attendee. The roles of facilitator and of note-taker may be rotated. The name and position of this person should be announced before the meeting starts.
- Limit attendance to those with subject-matter knowledge who will make valuable contributions and have decision-making authority.
- Ensure the availability of the materials/equipment necessary to run the meeting effectively and that the equipment is working. Such materials/equipment may include:
- extra copies of agenda and prework
- overhead projector and/or LCD panel/projector
- easel/flip-chart pads
- markers, extra pencils
- name tags
- extension cords
- Light refreshments should be available for people as they arrive; this creates a good feeling and may contribute to the success of the meeting.
Once the meeting is underway, following these guidelines will enhance its effectiveness:
- The facilitator should start the meeting on time. If a gavel is used, it should be rapped once to declare order at the beginning and as necessary throughout the meeting. The facilitator should welcome those present and, if appropriate, have them introduce themselves. After some informal remarks, the facilitator should restate the meeting objectives, establish the ground rules of the meeting, and ask for any additions to the agenda.
- A quorum (usually a majority of the members) is ordinarily required to conduct business. If the existence of a quorum is questioned, it must be determined that one exists for the meeting to continue.
- The role of the facilitator is to keep the meeting on track, follow the agenda and time schedule, identify and assign tasks, and listen and ask questions. If the discussion drifts away from the agenda, the facilitator should diplomatically but firmly declare the errant remarks "out of order" and return discussion to the agenda.
- Any member recognized by the facilitator may make a motion. Following a second, the group discusses the motion. When discussion ends, the motion is voted on. A majority vote is ordinarily required for a motion to pass. A successful vote approves "immediate action" or "tables" the motion (that is, refers one motion to a committee or postpones discussion until the next meeting).
- The facilitator must know the degree of formality expected. If informality has prevailed in the past, it should be continued. Informality often permits decision by consensus rather than formal vote. However, if formality prevails, parliamentary procedure must apply. The worldwide reference to this is the publication Robert's Rules of Order.
- Good meeting facilitators try to get as many people as possible to participate in the discussions. It is difficult but necessary to discourage someone who monopolizes the discussion.
- Special skill is required to manage a meeting if a heated debate breaks out. In such instances, the facilitator must forcefully limit the number and time allotted to those on each side of the issue. Above all, interruptions should not be permitted.
- There are few things worse than a boring meeting. Good facilitators often find that occasional witty remarks take away hum-drum feelings. Another good practice is to laugh heartily at genuinely funny comments.
- During the meeting, the facilitator must see to that there is agreement on any next steps or assignments and their target completion dates.
- At the end of the meeting, the facilitator thanks attendees and, if earned, recognizes their good participation. It is often appropriate to get consensus on the date, time, and place of the next meeting.
MEETINGS OF CORPORATION BOARDS OF DIRECTORS
At the top level of corporations are the meetings of the board of directors. Directors generally have authority over all corporate matters. The articles of incorporation, as amended, determine the number of directors.
Boards meet at regularly scheduled times, including during and immediately after shareholder meetings. If special board meetings are called, notice, in most cases, must be given at least ten but not more than sixty days in advance.
Corporation presidents generally preside at board meetings. If the president is unable to do so, the vice president ordinarily presides. Most large corporations use written meeting agendas.
Quorum requirements ordinarily require a majority of the directors to be in attendance. If at least a quorum attends, whatever decisions are made by those present constitute an action by the board. Bylaws seldom permit voting by proxy.
Corporation bylaws ordinarily presume that directors approve of any act passed by the board even if they voted against it unless they file a dissenting statement at or immediately after the meeting.
MEETINGS OF CORPORATE SHAREHOLDERS
State statutes and corporation bylaws require annual shareholder meetings. In addition to topics requested by shareholders, three major agenda items are usually covered:
- Election of board of directors
- Financial and competitive "state of the corporation"
- Plans for the future
Special shareholder meetings can be called if a major corporation change is pending, such as a new line of products or a hostile takeover bid by another corporation. Bylaws usually stipulate that notice of a special meeting must be given at least ten but not more than sixty days in advance.
Every item on the agenda must be checked meticulously for any inaccuracies. The Federal Trade Commission, an independent U.S. governmental agency, has the authority to issue cease-and-desist orders against companies that engage in any misleading practices in any shareholder meetings or publications sent to shareholders.
Unlike at meetings of board of directors, proxies can vote at shareholder meetings. A quorum generally consists of shareholders holding a majority of the voting stock (usually common stock).
see also Listening Skills in Business ; Speaking Skills in Business
Sniffen, Carl R.J. (2001). The Essential Corporation Handbook. (Directors' Meetings, pp. 6, 227; Shareholders' Meetings, pp. 161–171.) Central Point, OR: Oasis Press/PSI Research.
Brenda J. Reinsborough