Re: Meeting strategies?
From: Nancy Wight (
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 94 10:55 CDT
Rob asked:

> As part of our on-going process in search of the perfect meeting we
> (sharingwood) is gathering info on effective meeting strategies.  I
> would greatly appreciate a brief summary of how you and yours conduct a
> typical meeting.

We have a standard format for our meetings, from which we
deviate occasionally.  It goes something like this:

Agenda Review - < 5 minutes (usually about 30 seconds).  The steering
   committee sets the agenda prior to each meeting.  The agenda
   review gives everyone a chance to see what will be discussed,
   and add or delete something as it seems appropriate.

Assignments - At the beginning of each meeting, we request volunteers
   for 1) a notetaker, 2) a timekeeper, 3) a facilitator for the *next* 
   meeting. We have a facilitator for every meeting - we try to have 
   someone who is not presenting anything.

Check-in - Similar to what others have described on this list.  Everyone
   gets approx. 30 seconds to 2 minutes (depending on the agenda for the
   rest of the meeting) to say anything they want - usually how things
   are going in their lives, interesting tidbits, etc. This serves
   to focus everyone's energy and to connect with each other.
   We pass around a watch with a second hand - the person who just 
   checked-in keeps track of the time and hands the person currently 
   checking in the watch when their time is up.  The time limit is not 
   strictly enforced (i.e.  you don't have to stop talking in the middle 
   of a sentence!) but we found this necessary to keep the meetings on 
   schedule.  Of course, if someone has something particularly important, 
   heart- wrenching, etc. to say, we usually go with the flow and give that
   person more time.  We reserve more lengthy check-ins for special 
   meetings or retreats (more on that later).

Business - Usually a discussion about a proposal that has been brought
   to the group by a committee.  This can take many forms.  Some of the
   follwing formats have worked well for us:

   1) Brainstorming - Usually used for giving a committee ideas so that they
   can go off and write a proposal.  Everyone says ideas, "popcorn" style
   and someone writes them on a white board or large sheets of paper.

   2) "Go round" - This is used when we need to get everyones feelings
   or opinions about a particular topic.  It is also used as a release 
   for people who just need to be heard and listened to.  We sometimes
   "pass the watch" during go 'rounds.

   3) Small groups - When we don't have time for a go 'round (takes a minimum 
   25 minutes), or the issue is too uncomfortable for some to discuss in 
   the whole group, we break up into small groups to discuss it and 
   someone takes notes.  Sometimes a member of each group summarizes the
   discussion for the larger group.

   4) "Fishbowl" - This is perhaps our most intense format.  It is used
   when there is a particularly difficult issue being discussed, and
   there are usually some people who feel very strongly on both sides
   of an issue.  4-6 people sit on the floor in a circle within the
   larger circle.  They each make their point and there may be a little
   discussion.  When someone in the center feels they have said what
   they need to, and have been heard, they get up and go to the outside
   circle, then someone else takes their place in the center.  The rest
   of the group listens intently to the folks in the middle.  

   I think this works very well, and sometimes takes less time than
   a go 'round because usually only those who really need to say something

   5) Discussion - sometimes we just have a regular old discussion.  For
   example, our architect comes to the meeting and goes over a new site 
   plan and people ask questions.

Announcements - Usually about 10 minutes. 

Break - 5-10 minutes (the first thing to go when the schedule gets tight!)

More business

Check-out - if there's time.  Lately, we have only had time for either
  check in *or* check out, but not both.  People tend to want a check
  out after a particularly difficult discussion.

Sometimes, during the course of a meeting, it becomes clear that we need
more time on a particular issue.  The facilitator makes that judgement
call and asks the group to consider dropping one of the other agenda

Unfortunately, we don't have it together to get info to people who
missed the meeting.  No one is willing to make copies, send them
out, etc, as most people are already doing overtime with committee
work and meetings.  This is definitely an area for improvement.
We *do* have a phone tree, however, to let people know about 
something they need to bring to a meeting, a change of schedule, 
important news, etc.

About once or twice a year (more often when we were smaller!) we
all go off to a retreat somewhere for a weekend or a Saturday and spend 
time playing together and discussing less business and more vision-related 
topics.  We also use this time for everyone to get to know everyone else
better and to play with the kids.  At our last retreat, we had
an exercise where we made the room into a mini site plan.  We
built our community in the room, and then asked people to pretend
like they were living there and do the things they envision themselves
doing once they move in.  People got into it, and right away, we
could see who was going to be hanging out in the common house ;-)

Oops, you asked for a *brief* summary.  But this *is* brief-there's
a lot I left out! :-)

- Nancy


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