What can you do to make your next board or committee meeting be more focused, take less time, and produce better results? The secret to an effective meeting lives in the word WHY.
This week’s goalWA.net “Off the Pitch” column by Ruth Nicholson looks at the three critical elements that make for a good board or committee meeting. Ruth is an internationally-certified facilitator, an organizational alchemist, and the founder of GO!, the expert resource for youth sports governance, operations, and coaching survival.
by Ruth Nicholson
Coaches know that one of the keys to a good game is in the preparation of players and their ability to make good decisions on the field. The secret to an effective meeting also lives in the preparation for the event and lives in the word WHY.
(The photo is of what I normally draw in real time when I present this article as a short workshop.)
W = WHAT
The “W” in WHY represents the “what” and the three levels of purpose in a meeting. Yes, there is more than one purpose in most meetings.
At the top level, there is the purpose of the overall project or program. This can be the mission or vision of an organization, or it can be the purpose of a specific program, project, or event. Although you may not spend a lot of time talking about this high-level purpose at the meeting, it provides the overarching framework and focus within which the meeting participants will be conducting their work. Be sure that the meeting you are having is consistent with this overall purpose.
The second level is the specific purpose of the meeting itself. Why is it important that meeting participants gather and work together at this time and place? What work does the group need to accomplish at the meeting?
Independent Sector calculated the value of a volunteer hour in the United States in 2016 at $24.14 (see https://independentsector.org/resource/the-value-of-volunteer-time/). If you have 10 people who are not paid staff coming to a two-hour meeting, that represents $482.80 worth of time spent in that meeting from those volunteers. Can your organization afford to waste that time and money on an unproductive meeting? If you cannot articulate the purpose of the meeting, reconsider whether you need to have one.
The third level is the purpose of each specific item on a meeting agenda. What is the desired outcome of each agenda item? This not only provides focus to each activity in your meeting, it also provides an indication when the group has successfully completed each task and agenda item at the meeting. Consider putting the key questions or the desired outcome of each agenda item on the agenda itself. Examples include:
- Adopt the budget for the next year
- Decide what dates we want to hold tryouts
- Evaluate the qualifications of the five candidates we are considering for our vacant Director of Coaching position
- Develop ideas for the theme of next year’s fundraising event
- Develop a new club refund policy for players who are injured mid-season
The three levels of purpose should be consistent with each other. If you cannot articulate the purpose of the meeting or its agenda items, do not have the meeting!
H = HOW
The identification of the purpose of each item on a meeting agenda immediately flows into the “H” of WHY which represents “how”. How is all about the three basic types of activities that people do in meetings. Form follows function.
The first type of meeting activity is one in which a group gathers or shares information. This is often done through updates or presentations. This is a one-way communication activity that does not require much interaction or discussion outside of the occasional clarifying question. Information can be shared in groups in a wide variety of ways. If you are considering a meeting composed largely of this type of activity, consider other ways of sharing information that do not require a formal meeting.
The second type of meeting activity is one in which the group needs to discuss issues, identify trends, and discern the meaning of data and information. This is an interactive group activity that may involve a lot of discussion. To help the group stay focused and productive, consider developing 1-3 focus questions that will help meeting participants achieve the desired outcome of the discussion. Examples include:
- What is the most common concern raised in the survey results?
- What was the experience of our teams at the last tournament?
- What budget costs were the most difficult to estimate last year? Why?
The third type of meeting activity is decision making. Decision making can be the development of recommendations by committees that are forwarded on to senior staff or a board of directors, or it can be decisions that need to be made at the board level.
It is possible that the purpose of a meeting may involve all three types of activities for an individual agenda item or for the meeting as a whole. For example, imagine that the purpose of a meeting is to decide where the annual awards banquet will be held. The agenda contains three agenda items: identify the venues where the event could be held, discuss and evaluate the attributes of each of the venues, and pick a venue. If the committee gets stuck listing all the possible venues and never gets to evaluating and deciding on one, meeting participants may leave the feeling like the meeting was a waste of time because they did not come to a decision – which was the purpose of the meeting.
Meetings are most effective when the purpose of an agenda item (the “what”) is in alignment with the meeting activity (the “how”).
Y = YOU or WHO?
The “Y” of WHY represents “you” or who needs to be engaged. This is the people component of a meeting. There are three sets of people linked to a meeting, only one of which may be in the actual meeting.
The first set of people related to a meeting are those who provide information and input into a meeting. These may be organizational staff, vendors, coaches, players, parents, referees, or league officials. They may not attend the meeting in person. However, they may have information about an event, proposals for improvement, or perspectives on how a program is operating that are important to consider as a part of meeting discussions and decision making.
The people in the meeting are the second set of people related to a meeting. They are the ones who collect information, discuss trends and the ramifications of different situations, and make decisions or recommendations.
Who is left? The third set of people related to a meeting are those who are affected by the outcomes of the meeting. These are the people who may be impacted by a decision to change the club fees or revise a policy on the criteria for approving players to “play up” on an older-aged team. These are the people with whom meeting participants need to communicate the results of the meeting.
Part of making a meeting effective is engaging and effectively communicating with those three sets of people in meaningful ways.
Tips for Better Meetings
- Communicate the purpose of your meeting to meeting participants 1-2 weeks prior to the meeting date. Avoid simply saying it is the regular meeting of the board or committee just because it is the first Monday of the month.
- For every item on your agenda, identify whether it is an update (information sharing), discussion, or decision/action item. Include key questions to guide discussion or to frame the decisions that need to be made to help the group stay focused.
- Share background information, reports, or other relevant data with the agenda at least one week prior to a meeting so that participants have an opportunity to come prepared to work at the meeting.
The key to shorter meetings with better results is taking the time to think through the purpose, activities, and people related to the meeting before the meeting so that it is set up for success.
WHY are you having your next meeting?
Ruth Nicholson is the founder of GO!, a 24/7 Resource and Training Library offering youth sports organizations proven leadership and administrative tools. It has fielded inquiries and worked with coaches, clubs, state associations and leagues in 19 North American states and provinces, as well as others in Europe, South America, Australia and Africa since its unveiling in mid-2017. Interest from the U.S. Olympic Committee coaching education program in GO! training webinars has resulted in the engagement of 26 different sports.