28th April 2000 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions.

WE HAVE a business-like chair so I suppose we are lucky. He prepares well for the meeting, times every item, sets out the options and on every agenda item makes a proposal for our agreement. But he rattles through at such a pace that most would feel very conspicuous if they asked a question, voiced a doubt or, heaven forbid, disagreed. The result is that we end up feeling used, or even wondering if we have done the right thing. Without being ungrateful, how can we get more participation?

THERE'S nothing wrong with preparing well, timing the items and setting out clear options. But there is something very wrong with leaving members feeling excluded, not just because it is damaging to relationships but because, more formally, our responsibility is corporate and shared ownership of the outcomes must be genuine. The chair shouldn't be the only one preparing for the meeting. Are you relying on him too much? A bit of knowledge is great for one's confidence and makes it possible to ak questions and contribute. Do you have effective committees? These, especially if open to non-members as visitors, should provide a place for good number to dig a little deeper into issues and sort out options.

Timing of items in a rough and ready way does ensure that you get through the agenda, are disciplined in discussion, and leave enough time for really major items. But the timetable should always be put forward for general agreement at the outset, and if anyone feels the proportions are wrong he or she must say so.

During the meeting you must all be brave enough to slow down the pace if you genuinely feel that a subject has not been explored enough. There may be a case for saying: "Please could we discuss that a bit?' "Are those the only possibilities?" or "Can we go round the table to ensure everybody is happy with that?" This last question can sometimes change the outcome. I think you will find that these techniques do the trick. If not, you may have to be more direct, or even contemplate a change.

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