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Meetings are part of everyday business and an essential part of governance. They can happen internally or externally. They can be informal or formal. Meetings provide an opportunity for collaboration, information sharing and decision-making. In this topic, we look at lingo you’ll come across in meetings. We also explore different types of meetings and how to make them effective.
While reading this topic, think about the following questions and how they relate to your organisation, community or nation:
- Are there any meeting terms that you’ve heard but are unfamiliar with?
- What meetings does your organisation, community or nation need to hold?
- What are the phases of a meeting? Do you prepare effectively for each phase or is there room for improvement?
- How does your group run meetings? Can you make your meetings more effective?
If you’re new to meetings, there can be a lot of new words to get your head around. The following are a few of the most common meeting lingo.
To ‘abstain’ from voting means to refrain or hold back from voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on an issue. The individual’s vote is recorded as an ‘abstention’ and does not count towards the vote.
During meetings, you may hear the chairperson or attendees ask the minute-taker to note down ‘action items’.
Action items are descriptions of tasks to be completed.
Action items are sometimes recorded in an ‘Action item register’. At the next meeting, people responsible for the action items report on their progress.
When you give your apology, this means letting the chair or meeting organiser know that you cannot attend the meeting.
Apologies are usually recorded in the minutes.
Like apologies, attendance is usually recorded in the minutes. For big meetings, it may also be recorded in an ‘attendance register’.
The attendance register is particularly important where a meeting needs a quorum before the meeting can start.
Voting by ballot is a means of secret voting.
Each voter marks their vote on a separate piece of paper called a ‘ballot’.
The chairperson is the person in charge of running a meeting.
An effective chairperson makes sure that:
- attendees actively participate and behave according to the meeting rules
- eligible attendees can express their views, ask questions and vote or make decisions
- discussions are inclusive, open and informed by accurate information
- decisions are fair, relevant and of a high standard
- differences of opinion don’t turn into conflict
- meetings follow the agenda and are productive.
A Code of Conduct is a document that sets out the standards of behaviour expected from meeting attendees. In other words, it spells out the ‘ground rules’ for the meeting.
It can be useful to have the meeting attendees agree to the rules. People more easily accept and abide by rules they set themselves.
Many boards have a ‘conflict of interest’ register. This is used to keep track of the interests of individual board members that might conflict with the interests of the organisation and its activities.
Many boards keep a ‘standing agenda item’ (an item that’s always on the agenda) to remind them to update the conflict of interests register.
For more information see conflicts of interest.
Consensus decision-making involves members of a group coming to agree on a course of action. It may involve members agreeing to disagree and being prepared to support a consensus decision. Consensus comes through slow agreement and may change over time.
Facilitators focus on managing the meeting process and help participants engage. Most facilitators remain neutral during meeting business.
Using ‘majority rule’, a decision is passed when a majority (more than half) of the members or attendees of the meeting vote in favour.
Once a decision is reached, those who were in the minority, voted against the decision (or motion) or abstained should respect and abide by the collective decision.
Meeting papers are a set of documents relevant to the meeting business. They are circulated before, or during, the meeting.
Meeting papers often include the agenda and minutes from the last meeting. They may also include updates on different projects or activities, financial statements or other documents, depending on what needs to be decided at the meeting.
Meeting papers help attendees prepare for the meeting and make effective and well-informed decisions at the meeting.
For board meetings, the meeting papers are often called the ‘board pack’.
Minutes are the written record of a meeting. Minutes should include, at the least, a summary of the key outcomes and decisions made at the meeting.
It’s important that someone is assigned as the minute-taker for your meeting.
A motion is a proposal put to a meeting to vote on.
‘Moving a motion’ means someone puts a proposal forward to vote on. Usually this is written down. The motion may be amended or reworded before being put to the vote. Then people vote on it.
Voting can be done in many ways. For example, by a show of hands, verbal comment, secret ballot, consensus or a counted vote.
There are many approaches to pass motions. Increasingly, organisations are using consensus approaches and recording the result.
Whichever approach you choose, set it down in your rules. This makes sure everyone (including new members) knows how you go about making decisions.
A notice is a written invitation to individuals to a meeting.
A good notice provides the date, time, venue (or login details for virtual meetings), whether attendance is compulsory or voluntary, and the purpose of the meeting.
For certain meetings of incorporated organisations, there are rules about:
- when the notice must be sent out
- what it should include
- how it should be advertised.
A ‘quorum’ is the minimum number of members that must be present at a meeting for decisions to be made.
The minimum number of members is usually set out in an organisation’s rules or constitution.
The quorum must be present during the whole meeting. If a quorum is lost during the meeting, discussion can continue, but decisions cannot be made.
Incorporated board meetings and annual general meetings (AGMs) must have a quorum for the meeting to be legal.
A resolution is a formal way that a company notes decisions made at a meeting of company members.
There are 2 types of resolutions that can be put to members to vote on – ordinary resolutions and special resolutions. Each has certain voting requirements. See Resolutions and voting on the ORIC website.
Members also have a right to propose a resolution at general meetings. See Members resolutions and statements on the ORIC website.
Run effective meetings
To get the most out of meetings, make sure you take charge and run meetings effectively.
Effective meetings ensure that:
- people’s time is used effectively
- you achieve outcomes that matter to your group.
Effective meetings don’t just happen, they’re well prepared for.
For a meeting to be effective, it takes work by your organisation over several phases. This includes before the meeting, during the meeting and after the meeting.
Some preparatory work for this phase may include:
- organising a venue (or confirming/testing virtual meeting software if the meeting is online)
- preparing a list of attendees
- providing notice of the meeting to all prospective attendees well ahead of time
- managing any diary clashes
- preparing draft meeting material such as:
- a clear agenda
- meeting Code of Conduct
- previous minutes
- actions register
- any supporting documents
- attendance list templates
- minute-taking templates
- action register templates
- issuing the meeting notice, with meeting documents, in sufficient time. If you need to distribute additional meeting papers, make sure they’re in plain English (or in local languages). Distribute them early enough for people to read them and prepare
- carrying out pre-meeting consultations (if required). If the meeting involves big decisions or complex ideas, talk to leaders, Elders, and key decision makers before the meeting. This gives them a chance to:
- understand what the meeting is about
- talk to other community members
- think more deeply about decisions to be made.
- making sure the chairperson, speakers and minute-taker have confirmed
- making sure there’s a quorum (if needed)
- organising a Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country
- organising any catering.
During the meeting
It’s respectful to start a meeting with a Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country.
It can be useful to record who attends the meeting in an attendance register. Hand this around at the start of the meeting or complete at the door as people enter.
Make sure you’ve reached quorum and that your chairperson and minute-taker are present. Choose a chairperson or facilitator who can keep the discussion on track. Have the chairperson note any agreed meeting procedures. Make sure there is a minute-taker to record decisions made at the meeting.
Make sure copies of documents are available at the meeting or sent to attendees who are online.
Seek active participation from those who attend the meeting. Schedule sufficient breaks and provide healthy food options. A sense of humour also doesn’t go astray!
For some formal meetings (such as native title meetings), it’s particularly important that there’s an agreed process for making decisions. Follow this process for every decision made.
It’s also important to have rules for how meetings are run. Set clear and sensible ground rules for the meeting (sometimes recorded in a Code of Conduct). Every individual on the governing body should understand the meeting rules and know how to follow them. This should be included in regular governance and induction training.
You can customise your meeting rules to cover:
- the language and format in which information is presented by managers, staff and visitors
- the behaviour and participation of the members of the governing body
- the role and behaviour of the chairperson
- values and standards for how you want to make decisions
- how visitors should behave when they attend your meetings.
Post-meeting follow up
This would include:
- finalising the minutes
- completing action items and implementing decisions from the meeting
- ensuring the documents are in a final draft ready for endorsement at the next meeting
- tentatively booking in the next meeting.
Meetings held by incorporated organisations
Incorporated organisations (corporations) must hold certain meetings over the financial year. For some meetings, there are rules about how they must go about it. For example, when the meeting notice must go out and what it must include.
You can find information and templates about holding corporation meetings on the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) website.
The main meetings are:
Directors. Management and CEO may attend to provide operational updates.
- review performance of the organisation
- monitor the organisations finances and risk
- set strategic direction of the company
Examples of what they do
- review and approve strategic plan
- develop, review and evaluate policies
- foster and maintain business relationships or partnerships
- make decisions on membership applications, expenditure (paying bills)
- plan for the organisation’s AGM
- review and monitor service agreements, and grants with stakeholder agencies
- review commercial activities and contracts such as Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs).
For more information, see Meetings for directors on the ORIC website.
Members’ meetings (‘Special General Meetings’)
Directors and members.
- for a special purpose
- to discuss specific matters.
Examples of what they do
- discuss and consider important matters raised by the board or the membership
- resolve proposals that members can vote on or make decisions about.
For more information, see Meetings for members on the ORIC website.
Annual General Meetings (AGMs)
Directors and members
- discuss Directors’ reports
- elect or appoint directors
- pass resolutions
- incidental business.
Examples of what they do
- discuss things like the performance of the organisation over the past 12 months, the overall performance and financial position of the organisation (covered in the Directors’ report)
- vote in new directors
- discuss and decide on resolutions proposed by members
- consider additional business as per the rule book or incidental to the meeting.
For more information, see Plan and hold your AGM on the ORIC website.
Use these templates to customise and run your meetings.
Your agenda is like your roadmap. It shows what you will discuss in the meeting and helps you to stay on track. It’s usually sent out ahead of the meeting, but if you need to, you can add more items to the agenda later. Sometimes there are meeting papers about different items on the agenda.
Find a meeting agenda template (doc, 45KB).
You can adapt this template to suit your needs. It allows time at meetings for board directors to individually provide feedback on events and updates on issues raised by people in their organisation, community or nation. It also includes the Meeting Notice.
For meetings held by incorporated organisations, it’s important to check your rule book, which may have specific requirements for the content, format or meeting business on your agenda. This is particularly relevant when the agenda is included in a meeting notice and for AGMs.
Your minutes are the written record of what happens during your meeting. This includes discussions, decisions, recommendations and actions proposed. The minutes are the official record of the actions and decisions of the meeting attendees.
ORIC has sample minutes templates for each type of meeting:
Minutes don’t need to be long and wordy. The best minutes are:
- an accurate record of the meeting, summarising the main points of discussion
- a record of all decisions passed and abstentions
- about the agenda issues, and not about individual personalities
- objective, and don’t contain offensive comments or inappropriate discussion
- consistent in format so people become familiar with them
- readable and clearly laid out (use visual tools so that members can understand them)
- properly filed and available during subsequent meetings
- sensitive to cultural restrictions and protocols (such as not mentioning deceased people by name).
An incorporated organisation must keep minutes of all its meetings – it’s the law. It’s also a good idea for informal community organisations to keep a written record of collective decisions.
In a board setting, minutes are often checked by the board at the next board meeting, before the chairperson signs them.
Progress report on actions
It’s not enough for a board to make good decisions. You need to make sure they’re implemented. As a board director it’s your responsibility to keep track of whether your decisions have been implemented.
Find a progress report on actions template (doc, 22KB).
Run a remote (online) meeting
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are implementing e-governance approaches to managing their governance.
Running online meetings can present challenges. They may not always be workable. Consider whether attendees have access to the internet and the right technology.
Use easy-to-use collaboration software that allows everyone to see the same information at the same time. When attendees share screens, and comment and connect, engagement and outcomes increase.
Programs such as Yammer, Zoom, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams are examples of collaborative software that help you:
- connect people
- facilitate conversations
- share files
- record meetings.
These programs also have inclusive meeting ‘rooms’ where everyone is able to discuss and collaborate.
Tools like Miro and Google Hangouts enable participants to collaborate and connect using a virtual whiteboard.
Effective in-person meetings need preparation. Remote meetings are no different. Follow the same preparation tips to run effective meetings.
Before the meeting, test the software you’ll be using, as well as your connectivity and that of the attendees. It may be worth having an IT team member available in case of last-minute issues.
As with in-person meetings, it’s best-practice to share an agenda and desired outcomes before the meeting. This means everyone knows what to expect. They can come prepared, understand the objectives of the meeting and stay on track.
Use a multi-sensory approach
It’s important to keep attendees engaged in an online meeting. Think about how you can use different approaches to encourage participation. Look for opportunities to use different tools – such as Miro, an online whiteboard. You may also want to share your screen or view a video.
Try to allocate and rotate roles to give each attendee an active purpose. For example, you may want to ask a different team member to lead an activity (where appropriate – this may not be possible in more formal meetings).
Consider the attendees and take some time to reflect on the communication styles to ensure that everyone has a voice. Meetings can also be held in the local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language, so long as some parts can be translated later if needed.
Online meetings are a new experience for many. Take a ‘start small’ approach to allow your group to test and explore. This includes the number of attendees and meeting length.
Consider starting with internal meetings before moving to hosting General Meetings or AGMs online.
Code of Conduct
It’s important to have a Code of Conduct or rules for your meetings. Online meetings have additional considerations.
Including everyone can be challenging in an online environment. It may help if the chairperson goes through the ground rules at the start of the meeting. They can set the expectation that everyone is to participate. It can also be helpful to ask quieter attendees questions to encourage their participation and show that their insight is valued.
Consider asking attendees to put their microphone on mute when not speaking to avoid a large amount of background noise. You may also want to ask attendees to have their camera on throughout the meeting. This can increase engagement and connectivity.
Welcome and introductions
It’s good practice to invite everyone to introduce themselves at the start of the meeting. This is important when using video conferencing software to ensure all attendees are visible on screen.
This allows the chairperson to welcome each attendee and conduct introductions. When attendees feel comfortable with who else is in the meeting, there’s likely to be stronger, more authentic participation.
This is particularly important for internal meetings. Don’t underestimate how important it is to connect with attendees before jumping into the formal part of the meeting.
Before the first agenda item, consider posing a broad question, talking point or ice breaker activity to build rapport.
It can be difficult to gauge the effectiveness of an online meeting. You don’t have the same body language cues or discussion on the walk back to the desk. It’s important to seek feedback on the meeting to note what worked well and what can be improved.
Consider calling or instant messaging attendees to seek their feedback as opposed to sending a long summary email. Most people value someone taking the time to check in to see if something has met their needs.
We’ve translated our extensive research on Indigenous governance into helpful resources and tools to help you strengthen your governance practices.
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