Making meetings matter: top 10 tips

06 November 2023

How do you get the best out of meetings – and how can GGI help?

Directors, senior managers and administrators are responsible for the management of meetings. But how do you ensure you’re getting the best out of your meetings and spending all that valuable management time as efficiently as possible?

Here are 10 tried-and-tested ways to make your meetings matter:

  1. Think about the following questions: Why are we meeting? What are we expecting to achieve? Where does our authority come from? Who should be involved? Who should be the chair? How many attendees will make the meeting quorate? Who reports to the meeting, and who does the meeting report to? How do we communicate the meeting outcomes and to whom?
  2. The purpose of meetings will be set out in terms of reference, which should be reviewed each year by the meeting/group/committee and also by senior managers, the audit committee, and board/council as necessary.
  3. Each meeting should have a cycle of business, which will advise on the agenda month by month for a whole year. If undertaken appropriately, this should cover 95% of the business. Only rarely would unexpected items be brought to the meeting. Planning items throughout the year ensures that meeting agendas don’t become cluttered. Along with the cycle of business, it would be expected that the chairs of meetings and the principal administrator would meet beforehand to plan the upcoming agenda.
  4. It is good practice to send out action notes as soon as possible following the meeting to everyone who needs to take action. Undertaking actions before the next meeting, wherever possible, brings efficiency and effectiveness to proceedings. Don’t waste time in meetings trawling through people’s updates. Where possible, do this before the next meeting and report as appropriate (via an action note or agenda item) to the meeting.
  5. Meeting agendas should list items for discussion and outline why papers are there. They should also state who the lead officer is and who is going to deliver the report. Include indicative times for each action. Items for discussion and decision should be at the top of the agenda; items for information stay near the bottom and do not need to be discussed. Papers should be written concisely and precisely, addressing the question, ‘so what?’. They should explain what difference the actions being reported on have made. What has been achieved? Your colleagues (and potentially members of the general public) do not want a list of what you have done for the last month or what meetings you have attended; they want to know what progress has been made as a result of your actions. It is always good to get papers out ahead of the meeting. We suggest a minimum of three clear working days, but seven days would be better. Papers should not be tabled at meetings without the express permission of the chair.
  6. The chair of the meeting, senior officer and administrator should consider who needs to be a member of the meeting, as opposed to who comes along to present an item and who needs to be communicated with to discuss actions and direction of travel and learning.
  7. Meetings should be chaired well. A good chair will ensure that items run to time, that key matters are discussed, that contributions are made from all relevant parties and that in bringing items to conclusion, the discussion and action arising is summarised neatly for the minute taker.
  8. It is good practice to ensure that all meetings have the appropriate administration; cut short on this at your peril. Meeting minutes are all that the organisation will have in months and years to come when evidence might be needed of what occurred for the public record. It is vital that administrators are trained and developed to take precise, concise minutes.
  9. Presenters should not spend 15 minutes reading their work to the meeting; they must be able to assume that the paper has been read, is understandable, and colleagues know what is expected as an outcome, output or action.
  10. Finally, it is good practice at the end of every meeting for attendees to discuss the efficiency and effectiveness of the meeting. What worked well? Did we use the time well? Were all the items on the agenda appropriate? Were all the correct attendees brought together? What could we do better next time?

When attending meetings, it is vital that you prepare and take the time to read all the papers. Your colleagues have spent time and effort writing the paper. Please do them the courtesy of reading it.

You might be surprised by how simple these tips are, but then you would be even more surprised by the number of organisations we review that are still not following these simple suggestions.

If you're keen to make your meetings matter more, you might be interested in our effective meetings maturity matrix, designed to help you gauge how efficiently you’re spending all that valuable management meeting time.

If you need to discuss any of these tips or for more hands-on practical advice, please do not hesitate to contact GGI.

Meet the author: David Holden

Principal Consultant

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Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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