How to be a better chair

26th January 2001 at 00:00
Denise Bates explains how to make the board much more effective... and still get home at a reasonable time.

AS governing body agendas become ever more crowded, it makes sense to maximise the productivity of meetings.

Governors respect a chair who can manage business effectively. A well-chaired meeting can sort out many issues, while a poorly conducted meeting leaves bewildered participants wondering what has been achieved. Chairs might like to consider the following.

Don't be a dictator Assertive chairing does not mean authoritarianism or racing through the agenda without allowing enough time for discussion. It does involve ensuring that the necessary decisions are taken, and giving everyone a chance to contribute.

Make sure meeting times suit everyone Effective meetings start outside the meeting room. An assertive chair will ensure that working arrangements suit members' current needs.

If Tuesday is the preferred evening for meetings abandon the traditional Wednesday, and ensure sub-groups can arrange mutually convenient meeting times.

Check governors are happy with their roles A governor who is not enthused by the responsibilities of their sub-committee rarely makes a quality contribution - and may be keeping out someone with a lively interest.

Value sub-committees All sub-committees should produce minutes for the governing body which indicate clearly what was discussed. If the group has operated within its remit, show you value its work by avoiding a re-run of the same debate in full governors' meetings unless something new has arisen.

Recommend that all sub-committees, working parties and link governors are empowered to consider matters as they arise and to develop informed proposals in response.

Define what people need to know Define what information governors need and when. Conscientious governors accept the need to read relevant papers before a meeting.

Ensure that members understand the agenda of the meeting and put the issues to be discussed in context.

Manage meeting times Start meetings at the agreed time. Teachers and pupils are expected to be on time so why not governors? Late-comers can easily waste 15 minutes. Suggesting a finishing time may help participants keep to the point.

Set a time-limit for each agenda item Mentally allocate a time-limit for each item tht reflects its relative importance. Unless something unanticipated arises, move the meeting on.

Minutes should take minutes Minutes of the last meeting need only brief consideration. Restrict "matters arising" to items not already on the agenda. If an issue was discussed in depth last term it is not necessary to repeat the detail, unless something has changed.

Don't get sidetracked by personal opinions Governors legitimately have personal opinions but the purpose of the meeting is to transact the business on the agenda. If time is tight, a governor who is not focusing on the subject may need tactfully steering back on course before a wider debate ensues.

However, in doing this, the chair must remain sensitive. An apparently peripheral point made by a new or diffident governor may need consideration elsewhere. The chair could suggest taking it as any other business.

If you do get bogged down, suggest an adjournment Sometimes, despite the best endeavours of the chair, a meeting will go off at a tangent or discussion will become bogged down.

Some issues are so emotive that a number of governors want to have their say. If the meeting then falls badly behind schedule it may be possible to salvage the situation by referring to the projected finish time, and suggesting an adjournment. Faced with the prospect of another meeting many people will focus back on the agenda.

Target time-wasters Most governors are busy and few want long evening meetings. If certain governors always seem to drag meetings out with trivial points consider why. Does the meeting have a social aspect or provide a sense of self-importance? Do they appreciate that the governors' role is strategy rather than operational detail?

Don't rush later agenda items Governors who have already done a full day's work are rarely effective in the late evening when they may just want to get home and prepare for the next day.

In this situation people may leave before the end or avoid contributing to an item late on the agenda. The chair should adjourn if a subject genuinely needs more discussion.

Protracted meetings with tired participants do not make good progress. Most governors will enthusiastically support a chair who keeps meetings constructively focused.

Denise Bates is an experienced chair of governors from the North-west

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