Everyone has a story to tell about a meeting that seemed to have no purpose, no structure, and no outcomes, and totally wasted everyone’s time. But an effective meeting doesn’t happen by accident or ‘organically’. Attendees look to the meeting leader (most commonly, the Chair) to run the meeting so that the discussion stays on task, and that the meeting objectives – the reasons why the meeting was called in the first place – are achieved.
One of the crucial elements of an effectively run meeting is a structured Agenda: a tried and true format that will support the achievement of the meetings objectives. Every meeting should have an agenda – whether it be a standing agenda, or variable from one meeting to the next. The function of the agenda is to guide the Chair through the meeting efficiently and effectively, and to help meeting attendees focus on the important issues. The Committee Secretary works with the Chair to develop the agenda, and circulate it to the attendees in advance of the meeting.
Below is a common format used for committee meetings, with directions for the Committee Chair and Secretary to help them guide the attendees to achieve the meeting objectives. If you like the format, there is a link to my Agenda template at the end. I would be happy to share it with you.
Before the meeting
Confirm a quorum is present
If the committee charter specifies that a quorum is required, the Chair checks with the Secretary if the quorum has been reached before opening the meeting.
HEAD of the Agenda: administrative items
The meeting open is the first item on the official agenda. The Chair declares the meeting open, and the Secretary records the start time for the minutes.
The Chair or Secretary reads the names of members who have submitted apologies for non-attendance.
The Chair welcomes all attendees to the meeting, acknowledges visitors, introduces new members, and thanks outgoing members.
Confirmation of minutes
The Chair requests confirmation of the minutes of the last meeting.
Amendments may be submitted prior to the meeting or proposed at the current meeting. The Chair invites those members who were present at the last meeting to consider them and to agree on the specifics of any amendments to be made.
The minutes may then be confirmed. The Secretary records the amendments in the minutes of the current meeting.
Review of active actions
Each item on the Active Actions Register (business arising from the last meeting) is reviewed in turn. The Chair calls on the assignees to provide a status update. Actions are marked as Complete or In Progress as at the date of the current meeting. The Secretary records details of each update in the minutes.
BODY of the Agenda: where all the work is done
Items for decision
These are matters that the committee must make a decision on. Each item should have an accompanying paper in the meeting pack, which contains the information, options, recommendations from sub-committees, etc. – all the information that the members require to make an informed decision without significant discussion.
The Chair invites the members to respond to the proposal or recommendations, and facilitates a concise discussion which identifies any concerns held by members present. The Chair then calls for a decision to be made, which will be either by unanimous consensus, or by vote. Regardless of how decisions are made, the Secretary must record exactly what has been decided, and the method (consensus or vote), for the minutes.
The Chair will also have a role in consenting to the submission of late papers. However, the committee may choose not to accept papers tabled at the meeting or circulated outside the meeting pack, if they require time for review and discussion.
Items for discussion
These are items that require input from committee members, and conversation/debate before an action is taken (or not).
Each item for discussion is considered in the order they appear on the agenda. If there is good reason to change the order, the Chair seeks the attending members’ approval to re-order items.
The Chair gives a brief introduction for each item. If a report or a discussion paper is presented, either in the meeting papers or tabled at the meeting, the Chair invites the submitter to introduce it. The purpose of the introduction is to draw attention to key points and issues to aid discussion, and should not repeat material already provided to the members.
The Chair then invites open discussion, and facilitates a debate which draws out the full range of opinions held by members present.
If appropriate, at the end of the discussion a motion is proposed and seconded.
Items for noting
Items for noting are materials for the committee members to read prior to the meeting, and do not require decision, action or discussion. Items included here may include correspondence received, upcoming significant dates, and reports from sub-committees.
Items for noting can be dealt with altogether. The Chair asks the committee if they have questions about any of the items for noting. If no questions are forthcoming, the items for noting are taken as read.
TAIL of the Agenda: closing items
The Chair invites members to raise other matters. The Chair may allow small matters to be discussed and resolved, if the meeting close time has not yet passed. The Chair does not permit discussion for significant matters under this item, on the basis that the committee must have adequate time to prepare for informed discussion. The Secretary notes these matters for inclusion in a future agenda.
The Chair thanks any visitors to the meeting (unless this was done at the end of earlier items) and thanks members for their attendance and contribution.
The Chair declares the meeting closed.
After the meeting
Follow up with the Secretary
This step lies outside the official agenda, but is an important step in accurately documenting the outcomes of the meeting. The Chair asks the Secretary whether there is any aspect of the meeting that he/she would like to discuss before writing the minutes. This could be anything from the correct spelling of visitor’s names, clarification of special terms or acronyms that were used, to highlighting confidential or sensitive material that should be treated with care when writing the minutes.
The meeting structure presented above is suitable for any committee meeting. Some of the recommended agenda items may not be required at every meeting, but having this template in place will ensure there is a place for everything that could possibly come up.
Click here if you would like to receive my MS Word template for a Meeting Agenda that follows this structure, and further tips for using it effectively.