Effective Neighborhood Meetings

August 5th, 2009 by webmaster

Neighborhood meetings are an essential part of neighborhood associations. They are necessary for neighborhood decision-making and keeping the association running smoothly. At neighborhood meetings, residents have the opportunity to learn, discuss issues, and solve problems. How your association meetings are run can directly affect how members become and stay involved. If the neighborhood meetings are not well-organized, they will not be effective. More importantly, poorly run meetings can discourage participation at future meetings and group activities. With a little preparation, meetings are effective tools that enable neighborhood associations to achieve their goals. Remember that members have other commitments and will be more likely to attend meetings if they are productive, predictable, and efficient.

The first step is determining the need for the neighborhood meeting. Some associations meet regularly, either monthly, quarterly, or even yearly. It depends on how many issues the neighborhood association is trying to remedy and the need to meet with the residents. Below are examples of when you need a meeting:

  • You need a group decision or vote.
  • You have an issue/topic your association wants to learn about.
  • You want to share information with a lot of people.
  • To analyze and solve a problem.
  • You want people to have the same information at the same time so they can work together.
  • To achieve a training objective.
  • To keep residents up-to-date on progress.
  • To present information from outside groups.

There are three stages to consider with meetings: planning the meeting, the meeting itself, and after the meeting. The following is a checklist of things to consider in each stage of the neighborhood meeting process.

Planning the Meeting

  • Prepare an agenda. Consult other board members and past meeting minutes to determine items needing discussion and/or action. Consider how long each item will take, including time for discussion and decision-making. This will affect how long to publicize the meeting for and what attendees can expect. It will also help members stay on schedule for a more efficiently run meeting. See Developing the Agenda for more detailed information.
  • Assign responsibilities. Designate a facilitator, recorder, time keeper, and persons responsible to presentation each item. Communicate clearly with persons responsible for reports, leading a particular part of the meeting, etc. regarding their position in the agenda and time constraints. This prevents confusion at the meeting and allows time for preparation when roles have been assigned before the meeting.
  • Invite guest speakers early and confirm them prior to the meeting. It may be necessary to invite a guest speaker far in advance of the meeting. Confirm their attendance closer to the meeting date. If a speaker cannot attend, then their item on the agenda may need to be taken off and moved to a later date.
  • Choose a suitable and convenient time and place for the meeting. Consider the number expected to attend. Small rooms with too many people get stuffy and create tension. You may also find free meeting places at some schools, churches, or community centers. If the group is small enough, consider meeting at someone’s home or restaurant meeting rooms. Set a time limit to the meeting, based on the agenda, and stick to it if possible. Plan for meetings to be around an hour and no longer than 2 hours. Be sure, however, that you have time to make the decisions that need to be made. Confirm your room reservations closer to the meeting day to avoid having to find space at the last minute.
  • Compile and distribute materials. Send out the agenda before the meeting, along with reports, background materials, presentation information, minutes of previous meetings, and any other information that will help prepare the members for the meeting. If the materials are extensive and too costly to make several copies, make them available to be viewed and copied at the members’ care, such as by email or at a board members home or office.
  • Publicize the meeting. If the entire neighborhood is invited prepare a flier that is simple, yet eye catching. The flier should include the meeting date, time, location, and purpose or goal. They can be mailed or hand delivered. Have committee members or block captains make reminder phone calls to their neighbors. Publish an announcement of the meeting in the newsletter. Utilize the media, such as the local newspaper or news station. See Communicating with Your Neighbors for more ideas.

During the Meeting

  • Start on time. Do not be tempted to wait for more people to arrive. Not starting on time is one of the most frequent complaints about meetings. Latecomers should be caught up only on the item under discussion, so that they can participate/vote. They can be filled in on what they missed after the meeting or during a break.
  • Have a sign in sheet to collect the names and addresses of those in attendance. See the Sign-in Sheet template at the end of this document.
  • Have copies of the agenda and information handouts for items on the agenda.
  • If possible, serve light refreshments. Food not only encourages attendance, but it is also a good icebreaker and can help to encourage mingling among residents and board members before and after the meeting as they linger around the food table.
  • Greet members and make them feel welcome, even latecomers when appropriate. Consider assigning an official greeter at the meeting.
  • Introduce yourself and the board at the beginning of the meeting. Do not assume people know who you or your board is. If there is time and the group is a reasonable size, have the others introduce themselves as well.
  • Use consistent procedures and rules. Some associations prefer to use their own meeting procedures and rules, but parliamentary procedure is an effective and recognized format that most people have had some experience with. Roberts’ Rules of Order is considered the standard for facilitating discussions and group decision making. The purpose is to ensure fairness, participation, and orderly conduct of business. For this reason, your neighborhood association may want to adapt to a set of meeting “rules” based on Robert’s Rules, which will be more understandable and workable.
  • Review the agenda and set priorities for the meeting.
  • Be organized and stick to the agenda. Use a watch to follow the schedule of the agenda. When time approaches to end a discussion, announce that time is almost up. Identify the final speakers and their order from those who still want to speak. The discussion ends when those people finish speaking.
    • Let the tone for as a positive one. Not every meeting can be upbeat, but all meetings can be stimulating and full of accomplishment. The chairperson and every participant should take personal responsibility for the tone of the meeting and for keeping it moving along. Be sure to:
    • State ideas positively and show their relation to the overall issue.
    • Get points of view by questioning or restating throughout the meeting.
    • Stress cooperation, not conflict.
  • Use visual aids as much as possible for interest, including flip charts, maps, posters, and PowerPoint presentations. Visual aids give groups something to focus on during a discussion.
  • Encourage group discussion to get all points of view and ideas. You will have better quality decisions as well as more highly motivated member. They will feel that attending meetings is worth their while. However, keep in mind the time constraints of the agenda. Suggest that those who didn’t get a chance to speak talk to you after the meeting, or schedule a later time to discuss. This may also be a sign that a decision isn’t ready to be made and may need to be on the next meeting’s agenda.
  • Involve everyone who attends the meeting. When newcomers are not recognized or taken seriously, they often do not return for future meetings. Have speakers introduce themselves before they speak. If some people dominate the discussion, ask them to wait to speak until others have a turn.
  • Facilitate voting and decision-making. Never assume that there is agreement until an issue is voted on.
  • Association leaders should be a role model by listening, showing interest, appreciation, and confidence in members. Be sure not to ignore those who want to speak or monopolize the floor. Board members should facilitate discussion and not dictate decisions.
  • Mediate arguments when they arise. Remain impartial and fair. Give each side a chance to state their point of view.
  • Keep the discussion on topic. If a member brings up a topic that is not relevant to the current discussion, advise them that there will be time for new business. When that time arrives, invite the resident to voice his comment again. If the discussion becomes repetitive, recap the information that has already been shared and ask for any additional constructive and non-repetitive comments.
  • Assign tasks and delegate responsibilities as the meeting proceeds. Clarify new task assignments. Specify who is doing what and what is expected of that person. Ask the secretary to record all assignments in the minutes. Be sure to review assignments before the meeting is adjourned.
  • Present financial information with written copies for everyone. Members should know how their dues are being used. Financial reports should be understandable to all the members, not just to those with accounting backgrounds.
  • Near the end of the meeting summarize agreements reached and end the meeting on a unifying or positive note.
  • Keep minutes of the meeting for future reference in case a question or problem arises. See Tips on Keeping Minutes for more information.
  • Encourage feedback and allow time to evaluate the meeting. Ideas, activities, and commitment to the organization improve when members see their impact on the decision-making process.

After the Meeting

  • Encourage the secretary to write up the minutes and get them to you as quickly as possible. Distribute them to other board members and post them for all residents to view. See Tips on Keeping Minutes.
  • Follow up with group members. Check their progress on responsibilities assigned/accepted at the meeting. Give recognition and appreciation to excellent and timely progress.
  • Discuss any problems during the meeting with other board members; come up with ways improvements can be made.
  • Write all correspondence including thank you notes to your guest speakers as soon after the meeting as possible, while the information is fresh in your mind.
  • Before the next meeting, make sure everyone is ready to provide a report on his or her findings or assignments.
  • Conduct a periodic evaluation of the meetings. Note any areas that can be analyzed and improved for more productive meetings.
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