OF MEETING RULES
How many times have you been to a meeting that didn’t go well? Did it seem that the chair didn’t keep order? Was there a feeling that something was “railroaded”? Did it take an interminable amount of time to settle the simplest things? What was wrong? When people want to do something as a group, they must first agree on exactly what it is they want to do and how they want to go about it. In other words, they must work together to make some decisions, Sometimes it may take some zeroing in even to get at the “what?” At other times that may be generally understood and the necessary decisions may involve mostly the “how to
If there are only three or four persons in the group, you are right if you wonder why they should need a book like this. Common sense tells us that all they need to do is sit down in one room as people bent on working out where they want to go in a courteous spirit without wasting anyone’s time. They should all try to agree; but if they can’t and a majority want to go ahead wit something, the group may want to have an understanding that the majority’s will should prevail. Whoever is taking the lead may want to note down what has been decided and provide each person with a copy.
But make it even a half dozen people who are meeting in this way, and you will soon see the need for at least some formal control.
Too many people may try to talk at once. Some may not be able to get a word in edgewise. People may wander off the subject—or may even lose sight of what the proper subject is. And if things aren’t handled right, they may come out of the meeting with different understandings of what was or was not agreed to.
To prevent this, you will need to pick one person to “chair” the meeting—to designate who may speak at any given time and to see that the discussion narrows down to specific, precisely worded proposals. These should be recorded, and should be voted on unless there is obvious total agreement.
When the gathering reaches a size of about 12 to 15 persons, another threshold is crossed. At that point, the meeting becomes essentially “full scale,” with a need for tighter, more formal, more carefully developed control. A certain paradox appears. In order to preserve its freedom to act, the body must impose regulation.
The needed control must not only “keep order.” It must of course be geared to getting the business done and resolving any issues that may arise along the way. But—even more important—it must do these things in a way that’s fair to everyone taking pad in the process. And in this there’s more than may meet the eye.
Control of this kind naturally must be imposed by the person who conducts the meeting—generally called the chairman. There are a multitude of details that must be determined through him or her. Who gets to speak when? How is the meeting to be kept on track? What if discussion tends to go on forever? How is intense disagreement to be handed? How call business best be put through when there is no disagreement? What if a proposal appears to be not yet in shape for a yes or-no decision? And in a group like a club that has a continuing existence, how is business to be carried over from one meeting to the next if that seems desirable? All these things and many more are potential stumbling blocks when a large number of people are involved.
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