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(en) wsm.ie: Common Threads #1 - How to organise a meeting
Tue, 11 Apr 2017 10:57:22 +0300
Organising requires getting together and making decisions, sharing information and
organisational work. It only takes a few informal chats among any group of people before
it becomes obvious that some structure is greatly needed in facilitating group
functioning. Without structures and procedures people often forget what was agreed, what
tasks were to be done and by whom, or when the next meeting is. ---- People often get
frustrated that they never get to have their say, or that meetings go on for ages with no
decisions made, not to mention people jumping from one topic to another. Fortunately a
long history of activism and anarchist organising has led to the development of methods
for dealing with these problems and arranging meetings so that they can be effective.
Whatever meeting process your group agrees on will probably naturally end up being
tailored to your particular group. There are no hard and fast rules, just guidelines and
suggested roles. One of the most important, that immediately begins to bring order to a
group's meetings is a rule that people raise their hands to indicate they wish to
contribute, and then speakers are taken in order.
This requires someone to take on the role of facilitator and bring those whose turn it is
to speak into the discussion. In meetings of 8 or more people it's very useful to have
the queue of speakers' names visible (on a whiteboard or similar) so that everyone knows
when their turn is coming and how long they're likely to be waiting.
The facilitator's role is to help the group have a well run and inclusive meeting,
encouraging similar levels of input from everyone, keeping the meeting focussed on one
item at a time until a decision is reached by the group. The facilitator does not direct
the group or make decisions for them, and the role should be rotated through all group
members, it is a skill that almost anyone can learn.
At the beginning of a meeting, figuring out what points are to be discussed and writing up
the agenda in a prominent place creates a very useful tool. It gives the group a good
idea of the scope of the meeting, of how long the meeting is likely to take, and allows
the items to be discussed to be ordered in a way that makes sense - usually moving the
weightiest, most time consuming items to the end, and trimming some items if it looks like
the meeting will run too long.
The facilitator should ensure that the outcome of each agenda item is recorded, this can
be done by a separate minute taker, to relieve the facilitator of some of the effort of
running the meeting. Each agenda item will probably lead to a decision by the group.
How decisions are made is something that should be explicitly agreed upon by the group,
most groups use consensus-based decision making (where all decisions are agreed to, or at
least not disagreed with, by all members).
The outcome of each decision should be recorded by the minute-taker, this is quite likely
to involve an action (i.e. a task to be carried out by one or more members of the group)
and/or an agenda item at a later meeting - if further discussion or a report-back after an
action is required.
If meetings tend to run too long, adding a time limit to each agenda item can help
meetings to run to schedule. Time limits do not have to be rigidly adhered to but it will
help the group to be aware of how long the meeting will take, and decide whether or not to
continue on a point if it's likely to make the meeting run longer.
As agenda items are discussed and dealt with, the facilitator should try to regulate the
flow of conversation to ensure roughly equal participation from all members. Quieter
members should be encouraged to participate in discussion, with no individual being
allowed to dominate and more vocal members asked to hold back.
There are many tools available for aiding with this, the use of hand signals (see end of
this article), a conch or talking-stick, if the group is large, breaking it up into
smaller discussion groups, using go-arounds (i.e. taking input from everyone in turn) to
get each attendee to express their thoughts on a point or issue.
As proposals are made the facilitator should summarize them for the group and make sure
everyone agrees with what is proposed. It can be useful to write proposals up where they
can be seen by all meeting attendees. If agreement hasn't been reached after a reasonable
amount of time and discussion the item may be tabled until the next meeting.
The facilitator should try to keep the meeting moving forward but make sure each item is
sufficiently discussed , ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to input, and not
mistaking silence for agreement.
Vibe-watching is another important aspect of facilitation. Meetings are necessary for
getting things discussed and agreed upon but also for group-maintenance - ensuring
everyone feels fully involved and empowered in the group and encouraging solidarity and
connection between group members.
Vibe-watch includes keeping an eye on the atmosphere of the meeting, helping the groups
deal with conflict and distress, and watching for members being affected. If the group is
becoming restless, bored or tired, the facilitator (or vibe-watcher if the role has been
assigned to someone else) can call for a break or run a quick energising activity.
After all agenda items have been covered it's common practise to have an AOB section,
where people can bring up brief items that either have come up during the meeting or were
not thought of in time to make it onto the agenda. Before the meeting ends the date, time
and location of the group's next meeting should be decided on, along with who will take on
the facilitation role(s).
There are some people who, for one reason or another, do not find they can participate
well in meetings, or group settings. If this is the case in your group efforts should be
made to ensure they are included in other ways.
Someone attending the meeting can make sure any points or proposals the person would like
discussed are brought up at the meeting. They can be given the opportunity to have a say
in decisions made at the meeting and can be briefed afterwards, along with having the
minutes sent to them.
Meeting facilitation can be difficult and demanding, particularly with large groups
(anything upwards of 10 or 12 people). The role of facilitator should be rotated through
the group with everyone who feels they can taking turns facilitating. External
facilitation training is often a good idea, groups like WSM, Seeds For Change and others
are open to providing such training.
Anarchist meeting facilitation can be used effectively with groups of any size, even up to
hundreds of attendees. It should be kept in mind that the larger the group the more time
will probably be required for each agenda item, and the longer it will take for the group
to reach consensus on decisions.
Facilitating a large group is more difficult and the responsibilities can be shared among
several members. Some possible roles and the usual duties associated with each are
Your group may choose to adopt some or all of them, combine some of them, or think of new
ones of your own that suit your group. However your group decides to organise your
meetings it is most important that each member feels meetings are an effective and useful
Roles: Facilitator, Queue Keeper, Time Keeper, Minute Taker, Vibe-Watcher, Attendee
Equipment: Meeting room with seating, heating (if needed), whiteboard(s), markers &
wipers, pens + paper and/or laptop
Prepare the agenda before the meeting
Make sure the meeting location is appropriate for all attendees: accessibility,
Send around any pre-meeting material you have
Explain at the beginning what the meeting is about and how it will run
Do a go-around to have everyone introduce themselves to the group (usually called a check-in)
Have the minutes of the last meeting with you (or get someone else to have them)
Look for agenda items from attendees at the beginning of the meeting
Organise agenda items into an appropriate order
Add a time limit/guideline for each agenda point
Keep the meeting running smoothly and on-agenda and try to keep agenda items to their
stated time limits
If non-agenda items come up in discussion they may be added to the agenda, or moved to AOB
Make sure one person at a time speaks (back-and-forths can be ok sometimes but they should
be the exception rather than the rule)
Point at and call the name of the person whose turn it is to speak
Discourage people talking out of turn
Encourage people to speak who haven't spoken or have been speaking less than others (or
ask more vocal attendees to hold back)
Get the queue keeper to write down all proposals on a whiteboard
Engage the meeting on said proposals and try to get to consensus
Make sure people feel ready to make a decision on a proposal, they made need some more time
Use go-arounds where appropriate to get discussion flowing
Keep the numbers of direct responses down, 3 per person per discussion is a good rough limit
Ensure the minute taker has noted all decisions and actions and anything else that needs
to be noted
At the end of the meeting check to see if the group would like any of the agenda items or
decisions revisited at the next meeting
Have a closing go-around (a check-out) to check how the group feels the meeting went, if
aims were reached, actions apportioned fairly, and everything discussed thoroughly
Keep track of the time spent on each agenda item and alert the group, or facilitator, when
the time limit allotted to an item is approaching
Negotiate extra time for agenda items or the whole meeting, if necessary
Write down the names of people who put their hands up to speak.
Cross/rub out the names of those who have spoken.
If you wish to speak yourself add your name to bottom of the queue.
If someone has a direct response or a technical point and the facilitator hasn't noticed,
Write down any proposals that are announced (can also be performed by the agenda keeper)
Write the agenda items up as they are announced.
Cross/rub out agenda items once discussion has finished.
Write down any proposals that are announced (can also be performed by the queue keeper).
Write down the start and end time of the meeting.
Take down the names of attendees.
Record action items, proposals, decisions, agenda items for the next meeting, and any
other important points such as volunteers or interesting bits of conversation
Minuting everything that's said is very difficult and is probably unnecessary, if this is
required, consider recording the meeting, otherwise just write down the topics discussed
After the meeting distribute the minutes to group members
Pay attention to the group dynamics and emotional atmosphere, listening carefully and
observing body language.
Intervene, if it seems necessary, in situations of distress or conflict, perhaps
suggesting one-on-one time-outs or smaller discussions
Suggest breaks or energising activities where they seem appropriate or required, meetings
should be fun and enjoyable where possible
Send around any pre-meeting material you have.
Put your hand up when you wish to speak, you will be called upon by the facilitator.
If someone has their hand up but the queue keeper or facilitator hasn't noticed, point at
Similarly, if a proposal is made and neither the facilitator nor the queue keeper have
noted it, indicate that you have a technical point and point it out.
Try to self-facilitate as much as possible: if you have been speaking often or for a long
time try to let others in ahead of you, if you are called upon to speak but you don't
think it's your turn point it out.
Where you feel it is necessary, you can actively participate in facilitation by making a
technical point, e.g. when you don't think enough time has been given for discussion of a
Use the hand signals:
hand up = add me to the queue please
wavy hands pointing upwards = approval
wavy hands pointing downwards = disapproval
wavy hands pointing out from the body = ambivalence or not sure
T-sign = technical point - not related to the discussion but to something ancillary
two hands up (or a finger on each hand) = I wish to jump the queue to give a brief
response to something just said
WSM, How to avoid Bad Meetings and hold a Conversation about Anarchism,
Seeds For Change, Facilitating Meetings, http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/facilitationmeeting
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