The role of the Chair involves:-
- setting up the group climate and ensuring the atmosphere is comfortable for the participants
- setting up appropriate structures and procedures to promote effective group work
- ensuring everyone gets heard, no-one dominates and no-one is badly treated or ignored
- ensuring all contributions made, decisions taken and actions agreed are recorded accurately (and in the degree of detail appropriate to the objectives of the meeting)
- ensuring that conflict is resolved
- ensuring decisions are made and consensus is reached (if required)
The Chair should NOT:-
- encourage conflict
- have favourites
- take sides in disputes
- get involved in the task unless they can still focus sufficiently on process and people
It is easy to say these things and difficult to carry them out. It is particularly difficult to be an effective Chair, when you have to take the lead on the content of a meeting. After all, if there is only you attending, you have no choice. And if the meeting is with ‘the other side’ how can you stay neutral?
Here are some practical tips for effective chairing:
- Where practicable – eg where there are two or more of you attending – consciously and explicitly ‘split’ the roles of ‘chairing the meeting’ and ‘leading on the task’. So, you might agree that your colleague will act as Chair and you can focus on the content of the discussion. (This can work very well when a partner has not been involved in the detail of the matter but wants to take a lead on ‘managing’ the overall process).
- Don’t be afraid to share and swap roles at appropriate points in the meeting – but you should signal to the other participants that this is what you are doing. For example, you might ask the tax specialist who is attending to act as Chair most of the time, but then swap over when the discussion gets to the part where tax input is required.
- If you are forced to wear all hats at once you should try to persuade ‘the other side’ that you will be neutral in managing the meeting from the point of view of process. One way might be to agree at the start some simple ground rules about eg going round the table to give everyone a say up front; not interrupting; maximum time to be spent in discussion before trying to make a decision. The main thing is that you are then seen to practise what you preach.
- If only you are attending, try coming out of the ‘task’ role after each agenda item and check in with the client on ‘process’ and ‘people’ strands and ask:
‘Is this going OK for you?’
For more thoughts about improving the effectiveness of meetings, see: