The unit committee is where the business of the pack or troop takes place. While the Scouts are busy doing the things Scouts do, the adults are taking care of things like finance, logistics, equipment and recordkeeping. And just like any other committee, meetings are unavoidable. In fact, we’re expected to meet monthly to help ensure that the business is taken care of.
Committee meetings can be a real drag if they’re not conducted efficiently. They can go on and on with little focus, not getting much accomplished other than frustrating the participants. So to keep your committee meeting from keeping the minutes and throwing away the hours*, try the following:
I’ll put the two most important ones up front. We have emphasized these before:
- Start and end on time. Few things are more frustrating than being in a meeting, not knowing when it will end or how much longer it has to go. Make a practice of ending the meeting on time so participants will get to know consistently when they’ll be done. Starting on time shows respect for those who arrived on time or early. Waiting for stagglers only produces more stragglers.
- Have an agenda, distribute it in advance, and follow it. By having an agenda, you have a road map for your meeting. You (and everyone else) know exactly what’s next, which topics will be discussed and who is responsible for them. You can set aside time for “items from the floor” if you wish, but be strict with the time. Don’t let unscheduled topics cause you to run over. Ideally, anyone with a topic to discuss will ask you in advance to put it on the agenda.
- Don’t let parliamentary procedure get in the way. It’s not the city council or the board of IBM. The topics you will be discussing are mostly informational in nature – either distributing or seeking. Any direction you need to go in should be determined by consensus rather than by vote, so there’s no need for a motion, a second or a call for ayes and nays. You should, however, insist on decorum during discussions, including only one person holding the floor at a time. Don’t let side chatter interfere with the person speaking, and do your best to make sure everyone has a chance to be heard.
- Don’t be afraid to interrupt. You know who your long-winded committee members are, and you dread them as much as everyone else on the committee does. Don’t let them go on and on, or get off topic, because they are stifling productivity and keeping others from having their say. To help guide them, listen closely to their message in between the extraneous verbiage, and interrupt them to summarize the gist of what they said. If they’re not getting to the point, ask them politely to do so, or lead them in that direction with questions. And if others are waiting to speak, calmly thank the loquacious one and call on the others who have been patient.
- Steer the discussion toward an outcome. Invariably, conversation will stray off topic. When you see that this is happening, take note of the extraneous information and suggest that it might make for a separate topic. Then, point the way back towards the current agenda item.
- But don’t silence dissenters. You may have a specific outcome in mind, but the point of the committee is to hear about the topic from others’ perspectives. The person who disagrees with your ideas may have a better solution. If someone has something valuable to say, make sure they feel comfortable saying it. Play devil’s advocate and ask how anyone feels about the other side of the coin.
- Know when a topic is too complex. Sure, an item about something big, like buying some new tents, merits a good bit of discussion, but when that discussion gets down to minutiae, like whether you should get a specific brand from a specific vendor, or whether they should be two-man or three-man tents, it’s time to take it out of the committee meeting and set up a separate fact-finding group to handle it. Assign two or three people to come up with suggestions and bring it back next time the committee meets.
What other ideas do you have for improving the flow of your meetings? Let your fellow Scouters know by leaving a comment.
*The quote has been attributed to Thomas Kayser, former Xerox executive