Sunday, May 27, 2012

Timekeeping for Meetings
About this Essay
Some colleagues, who work with developmentally delayed clients, have been co-chairing large staff meetings with mixed results. Since I appreciate meetings, I have a written a piece to help them. I have focused on some concepts, with implications, as well as addressing the little-known fact that at times a chairman's mind may boggle.

The above introduction, linked to my discontinued website, is getting some hits these days, so I guess I should politely provide the entire piece:


for co-chairs of Do-it meetings

By Sean Crawford June 2009

"When hiking, the best way to keep from getting lost is to always stay found"

Concept: When chairing a meeting the way to keep from getting time-lost is to always stay found.


1) It would help to always know (stay found) where you are... to have a sense of proportion, to always know how many minutes (and what meeting portion) have passed and how many minutes are left.

2) It would help to decide ahead of time how long each part of the meeting is (at least roughly) and what will be the time on the clock at each point.

3) To compensate for your brain getting boggled it would help to have a big clock facing right at you.

4) If you choose to stick up a "flip chart page" with the agenda on it then it might help your self confidence to pencil in the clock times alongside the agenda items.

Concept: The group is responsible for the group.


1) As with supporting a client in a job, our mission ideally is to fade ourselves out (almost) completely as the group gets more mature about meetings.

2) Therefore we can feel more relaxed and less need to be controlling. (Sean: "Hey man, it's not my job to herd cats.")

3) If you decide to stick up a "flip chart page" agenda then it would help if the times are written alongside the agenda items in bold felt pen that can be seen from the back of the room.

4) It would help if the group "buys in" to the agenda times at the start of the meeting, then during the meeting the group self-control comes partly from their agreed on times (group responsibility) and not solely from you.

5) If you are constantly trying for "informed consent ... informed choices" by constantly reminding them of "time proportions" then the group will, secondly, get more mature at judging time, and, FIRSTLY, help to "peer pressure" the time-wasters.

6) The more you refer people to an impersonal clock or impersonal time on the agenda the less work for you, the less chance that someone will take your controlling them and interrupting them personally.

7) It would help if the timer reported to the entire responsible group in a clear loud voice.

Examples of a loud group timer:

Chair: "For the next agenda item we have agreed to ten minutes, from 1:00 to 1:10"

...(time passes) Shawna: "...and so that is what I think."

Timer: "Five minutes left."

Chair: "Thank you, Timer. Sean, I think you are next, did you have something to add?"

...(time passes, now Jane is talking) -so what I mean is, um,-"

Timer: "That's ten minutes."

Chair: "Thank you. Please finish up, Jane"

(Jane finishes)

Chair: We seem to be really excited and involved in this topic. We said to give it ten minutes, but, shall we go another five minutes longer? This would mean less time on, say, discussion of the last item."

Group: "yes, sure, you bet."

(time passes)

Timer: "That's it."

Chair: (If giving the group more responsibility) "We agreed on five minutes extra. We did so. Can we move on now?"

(If giving the group less responsibility) "Now we need to move on. We can write the topic in the "parking lot" and get to it later or next week if time permits. Now we are on to item X..."

Note: Last month I gave the group zero responsibility. One or more people got excited and wanted us to get onto something that was outside of our (realm) jurisdiction, something like wages. Me:

"Whoa! As chairman I must be autocratic and declare that we will not discuss this, nor will we discuss the reason we are not discussing it. If curious, you can ask the supervisor later. Right now we are moving on..." Note: The group took it well, and "autocratic " became someone's word of the day.

Question: Why did I begin with, "As chairman...? Answer: The group is responsible for the group, but I feel I have been delegated (by the group) to have special powers for the purpose of helping the group... I was not speaking "as Sean."

Regarding brain boggling:

It happens. Last month at one point I said calmly, "My brain just boggled. Kim, please take over." Then, turning to the group, I added, "Hey, that's why there's two of us." (I said this partly to help the group to learn more about meetings.)

Concept: Clients don't function when they are upset and neither should you. 

It seems to me that if any time you lose track of time, then that is a flashing sign that you are a teensy bit boggled, so STOP for a second, get "centered" and get back on track.

It seems to me that if both co-chairs are truly boggled, both at once, then probably the group is half boggled too; Either way, I think it is OK to say, (I'm making this up) "Let's take a minute of silence to all collect our thoughts, and choose our words, so we will each be able to contribute in the briefest possible way....Timer, please let us know when a minute is up. I realize a minute feels like forever, but it's only a minute, and we need the time..." (Then huddle with your co-chair and get centered)...

The point is to decide together before the meeting that you will STOP and pause or take a recess or something- you can't just "try to bravely carry on" if you are both really uncomfortable. 

(Sean: "Hey man, I can't carry on if I'm boggled; I'd rather try to herd cats.")

Regarding individuals wasting time:

Lorna has given us several tips, remember?, but here is one more-

If someone starts repeating herself for the third time in different words, then you may say, "Excuse me, but in the interest of time I must summarize. I hear you saying XY. Is that close enough?" "Yes, but-" "Then we must move on. Jane, I think you are next."

Note- I hope that in time the group will learn the skill of speaking concisely. (Definition: giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words) When I was working with walkie-talkies they encouraged us to "think before you speak" and they said it was perfectly fine to write it out on paper before you went on the air, if you needed to do so. We all caught on quickly.

Concluding remarks: 

Oh yes, best to do a cartoon of a car "parking lot" on the flip chart for the group at the beginning of the meeting. (To park topics to talk about later)

For this paper I have been a little wordy to give us all something in common to discuss. 

Needless to say, I encourage you to do-it in your own way. My focus is less on specific tricks and things, rather I focus on concepts to produce a relaxed tone.

Kim and I, in fact, do very little of the stuff in this paper: as I said, you can do-it in your own way.

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