All topics and issues that will be taken up at the meeting call for advance efforts.
The items stated in the agenda should be relevant and appropriate, keeping in view the purpose of the meeting and the expertise of the members who will be participating in the meeting. If the agenda is not properly drawn up, the meeting may not serve any useful purpose. The agenda should be such that an adequate number of issues that merit the attention of members are listed for deliberation so that the duration of the meeting is gainfully spent. Calling a meeting for the sake of it, without any serious agenda, or just to ensure that the predetermined periodicity is met, entails a waste of time and resources.
Every meeting of some importance will have a set of background papers, which are sent in advance to the members who will participate in the meeting.
These background papers relate to the items listed in the agenda, and provide glimpses of the issues involved. Background papers are normally prepared by the concerned functionaries or departments seeking a decision on the issue or a deliberation on the subject matter. Background papers should cover all relevant details that are germane to effective deliberation. This would normally include facts, figures, different views, expert opinion and the latest position. Minutes of the previous meeting are also sent along with the first lot of background papers since they are always the first item on the agenda. They are taken up for confirmation before proceeding to the other items. Background papers ensure that deliberations are focussed and cover all relevant dimensions of the subject under discussion. Background papers should clearly state what is expected of the meeting and members.
Board notes and office notes put up for meetings should state clearly whether the note is submitted for ‘consideration and orders’ or for ‘information’. It is also a common practice to state the ‘resolution’ covering the type of orders sought to ensure abundant clarity. The board or the committee, in its wisdom, will decide whether the resolution has to be passed as it is, or with any modifications. Background papers, it should be noted, are to be sent to all the members and invitees well in advance to enable them to come prepared with their views and suggestions.
In fact, if the subject matter is of a serious nature and if sufficient time has not been provided for advance consideration, there is every likelihood of the agenda item being deferred by the committee for consideration in the next meeting. At the same time, it is worth noting that whenever there are some important developments which are to be brought before the committee members, or when there are urgent decisions called for, and the matter is so urgent that it is not desirable to wait till the next meeting, there is a system of submitting what are called ‘table items’. Such items are tabled at the time of the meeting and are not sent in advance. If the chairperson and members agree, such items are also taken up for deliberation at the day’s meeting. As a general rule, however, table items should be put up as an exception and only when warranted.
Whom to Invite:
To be effective, deliberations at the meeting should involve all the concerned functionaries. Regular members of the committees, wherever formally constituted, will have to be invariably invited.
At the same time, in the absence of a formal list, it would be essential to identify people whose presence would be of significance when subjects are taken up for deliberation. In some cases, senior functionaries will have to be necessarily invited to lend authority to the decision-making process, whereas some junior-level functionaries and subject matter specialists will have to be present to provide technical details and other relevant papers. Persons to be invited to the meeting, wherever not specifically stated, are best decided in consultation with the chairperson and other senior functionaries on whose behalf the meeting is convened. Invitation for the meeting is to be clearly drawn up indicating the day, date, time and venue of the meeting. Invitations have to be sent well in advance to ensure that outstation participants have sufficient time to make appropriate travel plans.
Meeting notices will have to clearly indicate who should attend the meeting. Sometimes people in organizations receive notices, which do not clearly indicate whether they are sent as an invitation or just as intimation. The addressee, in this case, is likely to be confused and will have to start making enquiries. More so, when one is not a formal member of the committee or has had no prior intimation about it.
The meeting notice should also state, wherever appropriate, whether the addressee may bring one or two other colleagues dealing with the subject or, in the alternative, if one is not in a position to attend, whether someone else can be deputed on one’s behalf. Though most of these requirements look obvious, they are often overlooked.
Timing and Venue:
Care should be taken in fixing up meetings in a manner that is convenient to most of the members or participants. A notice, well in advance, will ensure that participants get adequate opportunity to schedule or reschedule their engagements. The date and time should be fixed taking into account holidays, other important events and functions which may clash with the meeting dates and time, and make it difficult for the members to choose between one and the other. It is generally expected that the person convening the meeting will take some trouble to ensure that most of the members, if not all, are in a position to attend and contribute.
While it may not be possible to totally avoid overlapping in all cases, some advance planning and enquiries will certainly help achieve better attendance at meetings. Indication of the duration of the meeting will also be helpful so that participants would know how much time they have to allot for attending the meeting. Further, details such as arrangements made, if any, for breakfast, lunch, accommodation and travel need to be mentioned. It is pertinent to mention here that while reasonable advance intimation for any meeting facilitates better attendance, any notice sent too much in advance will have to be necessarily followed up with subsequent reminders. It is desirable to remind the members and ascertain their participation on the day of the meeting or a day prior to the meeting. This becomes even more essential when formal, structured meetings need to have a quorum or minimum number of members. The venue of the meeting should be fixed up well before the meeting notices are dispatched.
With so many meetings taking place in organizations, there is bound to be considerable demand for meeting halls and conference rooms. The meeting venue should have all the required physical facilities—fans, air conditioners, microphones, projectors and toilets that ensure minimum comfort for the members and facilitate uninterrupted deliberations. As we have seen in the earlier chapters, physical barriers such as non-availability of sound systems, extraneous sounds, cramped seating and stuffy rooms hinder the effectiveness of communication. It is not uncommon in organizations to come across instances where the availability of the venue is not confirmed, or there is some misunderstanding in the date or time, as a result of which either meeting is delayed or participants are made to move from one venue to the other. A little extra care will avoid embarrassment and inconvenience at the time of the meeting. There are occasions when the chief executive or other senior functionaries may decide to convene impromptu or emergency meetings with very short notice, in which case the availability of the venue, physical facilities and other arrangements for refreshments will have to be attended to on priority. Any meeting where the deliberations have concluded, and yet refreshments or lunch is not ready, speaks of poor planning and has to be assiduously avoided.
The participants’ time, it is to be noted, is valuable and cannot be taken for granted.
Starting the meeting on time is an area that calls for conscious effort. Keeping the venue open and ready well in time, reminding the chairperson and other members, ensuring that all papers have reached the participants, making sure that the table items are placed and that the conveners and organizers are at the venue well before the scheduled time are all a must in making meetings time-bound and purposeful. A situation where the convener is still in consultation with the chairperson of the meeting well past the scheduled starting time, while the participants are waiting in the venue, unattended and not knowing when and if at all the meeting would start, is the kind of situation that speaks of indifferent attitude towards the meeting and must be avoided.
Time management is of essence in ensuring the effectiveness of meetings at all levels.
Meetings, which start on time, end on time and provide adequate time for purposeful deliberation of all the listed items, ensure cost effectiveness. On the contrary, meetings that start with undue delay, take up items which are not on priority and run out of focus, entail waste of time and effort and prove to be costly to the organization. One can, indeed, assess the level of efficiency of the organization in terms of effectiveness of the meetings conducted at various levels. In the exhibit carried under this chapter, we have noted that executives tend to spend much of their time in attending meetings.
Unless every effort is made to make the meetings business-like and focussed, organizational effectiveness gets impaired.