Meetings That Work

The purpose of your non-profit is to take action, not hold meetings. Yet, meetings seem to take up a lot of time, eat into productive work hours, and are often an excuse to go over history or conversations that could be shared more effectively and efficiently in other ways. There are three main reasons to hold a meeting: information-sharing, problem-solving and decision-making. However, whatever the reason, a good meeting has a purpose and resulting action(s).


There are many good reasons for a meeting, but just as many bad ones. According to, there are a number of different types of meetings:

  • Information briefings
  • Program/project planning or review
  • Trust-building/team-building
  • Decision-making
  • Generating new ideas or approaches
  • Dispute resolution
  • Strategic planning
  • Problem-solving/crisis resolution
  • Commitment-building
  • Celebrations

No matter which type, a meeting needs a purpose/goal, and some form of outcome or objective. If the main purpose is information briefings – determine if a memo or an email would be a more appropriate method of sharing this information. The main purpose of a board meetings is normally decision-making, so executive directors should be sure the meeting is needed and preparation is ready for decisions to be made.
Before scheduling your next meeting, answer the following question.

The purpose of this meeting is to _________(pick from the list)____________ ___
so that our organization/work group/team is able to _________(objective)_________ by the date of ______(when will action take place)____________.


Now that you have your purpose and objectives, you can begin your meeting preparation. Pre-planning your meeting is like preparing for a play. You need a script, a cast that know their roles. You need a set and props, a director and an audience in attendance.

1. Confirm – you have a clear purpose and objectives.

2. Select a date and time.

3. Determine who is chairing the meeting (if it’s not you).

4. Choose a location – make sure the room is comfortable for the amount of people expected, well-lite, free of outside noise and protected from intruders and disruptions.

5. Prepare an agenda – consult as many people as possible, list items to discuss, include time estimates for each discussion, plan an opening and closing of the meeting and emphasize a sense of the group.

6. Send notice of meeting – all participants should have purpose, date/time of meeting, agenda, support materials, and location, as far in advance of the meeting as possible.


An agenda is the simple most important element to keeping a meeting on track and on time. Consult with key leaders and members who are coming to help prepare the agenda. Important considerations include:

  • Have a written agenda. Send it out before the meeting
  • Put time limits on each item.
  • The order of business depends on the purpose of the meeting. Cover the most important business first.
  • Put quick reports and updates early to get them out of the way. Mail out written reports and have short oral summaries at the meeting to save time.
  • Explain each decision needed in a short sentence or two on the agenda.
  • Give several people responsibility for parts of the agenda – keeps people aware of what needs to be done before the meeting, and keeps people engaged.
  • Keep the agenda short – no more than two hours.
  • Provide time for “open discussion” or “new business” towards the end of the meeting.


When you are planning a meeting, the purpose of the meeting will help you decide what equipment you will need, as well as the seating arrangements, and other factors to consider.

What equipment will you need?

  • flip charts, paper, pens, etc.
  • white boards with dry erase pens
  • screens
  • lap top computer and projector
  • Internet access
  • audio recording devices
  • A/C plugs for computers
  • others?


Have you ever gone to a meeting where there wasn’t enough room? Have you been at a boardroom table where you couldn’t see the speaker? We all have. Ensure the facility matches the size of the group. Ideally, everyone is able to see other participants.
Show up early and get materials in place. Determine where the chair will sit or stand, where screens or flip charts can be placed, and how others can be seated for maximum communication.
Identify where the washrooms, coatracks, coffee and refreshments are located. Determine if extra tables are required for additional materials.
To set the mood, include some “group identification” in the room. Post the organizational logos on walls or team-building wisdom posters. Add candies or promotional items to tables. Play welcome music or start with an icebreaker activity.


One of the biggest pet peeves of meetings, is waiting for people to arrive so a meeting can start. People’s time is important, so don’t make those that arrive on time wait. Start the meeting and others will have to catch up.


Everyone at a meeting has a role. Being clear on people’s roles helps keep people engaged. The following are some examples of meeting roles.


1. Be familiar with all items on the agenda and reason for discussion.

2. Start and finish on time.

3. Introduce guests and/or observers at the beginning of the meeting.

4. Ensure that all members are given full opportunity to express their opinions.

5. Conduct the meeting in an orderly way.

6. Decide who may speak (formal meeting only).

7. Limit discussion to matters within the scope of the meeting and decide when there has been sufficient debate on each motion (formal meeting only).

8. Clarify motions and call for votes.

9. Declare the results of voting (formal meeting only).


1. Prepare, in consultation with the Chair, and send out the notice of meeting and agenda to all those who are entitled to come.

2. Confirm location for the meeting and ensure it is set up appropriately.

3. Ensure all reports are received for photocopying prior to the meeting.

4. Bring all materials to the meeting, such as by-laws, previous minutes, and reports.

5. Take minutes or notes of decisions and resulting actions required.

6. Read aloud any document which may be required.

7. Carry out any actions arising from the meeting which pertain to the recorder.


1. Arrive on time, prepared to participate in the meeting.

2. Read any material received prior to the meeting. If providing a report, have it circulated in advance. If this is impossible, ensure sufficient copies are available for distribution at the meeting.

3. Be courteous. Don't speak while others are speaking.

4. Address the Chair (formal meeting only).

5. If you disagree - disagree with ideas and motions – do not disagree with individuals.

6. Write your motions and submit to the recorder.


1. The group doesn't seem interested.
• Call a break
• Defer to next meeting
• Look to see if a few people are dominating and try to involve others.
• Encourage the group to make a decision and move on
• Check if everyone understands what is going on
• Make sure the right people are there

2. One individual is talking too much
• Tactfully suggest the group hear other opinions
• If still continues, indicate the importance of hearing others
• If still continues, rule out of order (formal meeting only)
• If still continues, take individual aside

3. Someone is shy and doesn't contribute
• Ask what he/she thinks about the problem
• Ask him/her for suggestions
• Ask for his/her agreement or disagreement

4. The group can't reach decision
• Ask the group what it would like to do, since no decision was reached
• Defer the item and come back to the item later in the agenda
• Ask if a compromise is possible
• Call for a majority vote
• Assign the problem to a committee

5. Two people are having side conversations
• Stop the meeting and ask if they would share their discussion with the rest
• Ask a direct question of the one who started the conversation
• If it continues, ask directly to stop
• Call a break and talk to them

6. Someone asks a question/makes a statement which is off the subject
• Thank him/her but indicate it be discussed at a later date
• Ask for clarification as to how it relates to topic


1. Meetings are too long. Assign start and end time

2. Too many people. A pre-site visit and planning will eliminate this one.

3. Interruptions

  • By phone. Remove phones or call forward when possible
  • By people. Chair directs receptionist

4. No ground rules. Chairperson makes them at beginning of meeting.

5. No agenda. Chairperson should send out for agenda items in advance.

6. No agenda sequencing. Chairperson's responsibility for flow.

7. Inappropriate location, time and or materials. Planning by Chair.

8. People don’t show up. Follow up after the meeting by Chair.

9. Purpose of meeting not clearly defined. Participants don't know why they are there.

10. Unclear level of authority/decision making at meeting. Chair should know this in advance.

11. Unresolved conflict of personnel or meeting content and process. Chair must control.

12. Poor facilitation, pacing, leadership. These are the responsibility of the Chair.

13. Nothing ever gets resolved. The agenda plays an important role. Chair has major role.

14. No record of meeting. If there are no minutes, you didn't have a meeting.

15. No follow up after meeting. This is part of the control process by the Chairperson.

Content for Board Liability was reprinted with permission in 1999 by SaskCulture as part of the SaskCulture Handbook for Cultural Organizations. Updated March 2014'


At the end of the meeting, review the decisions you’ve made. This is a chance to clarify actions. Make sure someone has the responsibility for each action, and a deadline.


At the end of each meeting, ask each person to name one thing they liked and one thing to change at future meetings. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, so don’t argue with anything, just move on to next individual.

Answer these questions:

Did we do what we wanted to do?
Did the meeting build the organizations?
Do the leaders, members and staff all feel more ownership in the organization after this meeting?
What did we learn?


The Chair should follow up with individuals who missed the meeting; give them a chance to explain their absence. Tell them what happened at the meeting and any actions where they can assist.

Also talk to new people, or guests, who came to the meeting. Did they like it? Did they have any suggestions? Remind them about the next meeting and invite them to return if appropriate.

Other links:

How to Run Good Meetings, Western Organization of Resource Councils, 2006