Your Roles in the Council
At some point in their careers, all councillors will find themselves chairing a meeting. This will either be online, in a committee meeting room or in a community venue. Many of the meetings you chair will be formal committee meetings or ‘task group’ meetings with officers and/or partner agencies involving a range of public, private and voluntary sector agencies. These will need to be chaired in accordance with the council’s constitution and procedure rules and any other procedures or ‘protocols’ that apply. Outside of this, however, you may also be asked to chair other group discussions, e.g. public meetings, board meetings for voluntary or community groups, appointment panels, committees of enquiry etc. Different meetings will need different approaches. You will need to think about the tone, style, whether it should be held online or a suitable venue, how to manage the meeting and encourage people to contribute, how to take decisions and which rules you need to adhere to.
Some suggestions from chairs
“As a chair, I always try to include all members of the committee, but if they start to wander off the point, or repeat what has already been said, I’ll politely move the agenda on. After all, you have to make the best use of the time available.”
“It’s worth always being really well prepared for committee meetings, it doesn’t look good if you have to keep referring to officers.”
“When you are meeting in the community bear in mind that people will have no idea who you are, who the officers are and what you can and can’t do, try to make this clear at the outset!”
“If things are getting heated or confrontational at a meeting, suggest a break!”
Some Meeting Tips for New Chairs for Meetings in the Council and in the Community
Before the Meeting
During the Meeting
After the Meeting
|Clarify the meeting’s objectives.||Create a good first impression, welcome people and clarify everyone’s role.||Ensure that minutes record the key decisions.|
|Ensure (or work with officers to make sure) that the right people are invited to attend. Welcome viewers if the meeting is to be webcast.||Focus on what the meeting needs to achieve and gain commitment to the agenda.||Make sure that any meeting notes or minutes are circulated to participants and anyone else who needs to know what was decided.|
|Ensure that all necessary documents are produced or that officers produce these in sufficient time.||Establish any ground rules, how should people contribute, how will everyone have a chance to speak?||Check progress on any actions agreed at the meeting.|
|Choose your mode of engagement either online or at a suitable venue and make sure that participants have the necessary technology or that the room is suitably equipped and set out.||Steer discussions in a structured way and manage the time and the personalities.|
|Develop some contingency plans for technical failure or non-attendance. In a council committee, there will be a quorum of members required for the meeting to go ahead. There may not be this requirement in the community.||Encourage different views and opinions.|
|Prepare yourself by knowing about all the matters under discussion and the purpose of each agenda item.||Summarise discussions and any decisions made after each agenda item and at the end of the meeting so that people are clear what’s been achieved.|
|Prepare yourself by knowing all the “rules” that will apply in the meeting about who can contribute, how often and how.||Thank everyone for their contributions.|
|Make sure that your committee members or meeting participants are fully prepared and informed.||Agree details for any follow up meetings.|
|Finish the meeting on time.|
Chairing remote or multi location meetings
Chairing meetings where all or some of the participants are attending virtually can bring different challenges. You might consider the following:
2. Join the meeting early to check that everyone is present and greet them personally as they join.
3. Consider scheduling some social time at the beginning or end of the meeting so that members can ‘catch up’ with each other.
4. Check at the beginning that everyone is able to participate and has no problems accessing papers, knowing what other communication channels to use for off-line discussion with, for example, other Group members.
5. Remind participants that they should mute their equipment when not speaking.
6. Provide guidance on how members should signify that they want to speak, comment or vote. Make sure that you facilitate contributions equally from those physically present and those attending remotely.
7. Make sure that you can be seen by all participants if this is an available function, perhaps by setting yourself up as a meeting convenor.
8. For larger meetings, you may wish to work with an officer convenor to handle some of the meeting logistics.
9. Ensure that members use any ‘chat’ facilities for meeting business only.
10. Adhere to the usual requirements but consider ways of streamlining processes such as reading apologies yourself rather than having officers read them.
11. To avoid people speaking over each other or long silences, ask each member in turn for their contribution to an item. You may wish to do this alphabetically.
12. Check occasionally through the meeting that no one has been ‘lost’ due to technical issues.
13. Pay more attention than usual to framing the meeting with reminders of the purpose of each agenda item and summarising decisions and actions for each item and again at the end of the meeting.
14. Check at the end of each agenda item that all members are content that they have been able to contribute.
15. Be more rigorous than usual in insisting that members stay focussed on the issue under discussion and do not waste time with irrelevant contributions or agreement with previous contributions.
16. Schedule comfort and refreshment breaks.
17. Evaluate the meeting at the end for suggestions on how systems can be improved in the future.