Meeting structure

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Efficient and enjoyable meetings keep us moving in a good direction. Poor meetings make everyone want to get away from each other afterward! Here's some suggestions we can all work on -- please edit/add as desired.


Meeting Types

Here's a model for breaking meetings down into three basic types. Other communities have similar meeting types.


Communities have a need for "emotional tune ups" from time to time. Sometimes we just want to be heard -- whether about our past, our frustrations with others, or just in general. Heart-2-heart meetings allow us to have consensus in the emotional realm.

General Rules

  • Respectful listening,
  • suspension of judgement,
  • listen more than talk.

In most cases, do not force people to talk -- there's nothing worse to someone who doesn't feel part of things than to have this pointed out with "What about Joe? He hasn't said anything yet!"

On the other hand, a skilled facilitator will see that even timid or shy people get their chance without undue pressure.


  • Increased empathy and understanding,
  • people may feel exhausted, yet satiated afterwards.


Generally less involved than in other meeting types. Set out the rules at the beginning. Gently remind people of rules when lines are crossed.
No Recorder 
No notes taken -- although our impressions necessarily stay with us, our words stay in the room.


  • Pot luck: (in Switzerland they call this "Canadian Dinner") - "a community that eats together stays together" -- Diana Leafe Christian
  • Story time: each person tells a story about something in their past.
  • Circle and talking stick, or heart circle: one person talks at a time with no interruptions.
  • Directed topic: discussion with a theme: "What do you fear about being in community?" "How do you feel when _______?" "What is the most embarrassing thing you've done?" "What are your hopes about being in community?" etc.
  • Gifting circle, gratitude circle
  • Reading study group: especially on emotional communications process and similar topics. (This example crosses over into brainstorming (below) and people may wish to take notes.)


Sometimes a bunch of people just need to shoot ideas into the cosmos and see where they land. This can result in new solutions to problems that don't seem to want to get solved. Brainstorming is the think that balances the feel of Heart-2-Heart meetings.

General rules

No idea is a bad idea, so no negative-talk; the goal is to proactively explore ways to make something happen. Keep a fast pace to keep participants slightly off-balance so the "good stuff" is freed up. Don't get into details or "yea, but" statements.


  • A number of alternatives for more careful consideration.
  • People should feel invigorated afterwards.


Act on behalf of agreement. Start by reviewing goals and rules. Keep ideas flowing. Keep group from bogging down into details. Pose "what if" questions to group. Foster weighting and discrimination polls. Close with a call to action, with volunteers to steward specific alternatives, with a date for reporting progress.
Flip chart with full pages moved to walls. Responsible for transcribing results to wiki.
Sort of a "back-up facilitator." Watch a clock on ideas and don't let them go on too long.


  • Problem solving
  • Direction finding
  • Vision seeking

Business meeting

Provides the act to go with the Brainstorming think and the Heart-2-Heart feel.

Business meetings are how resources (financial, human, capital) are allocated to projects that solve problems.

A business meeting must have an agenda, distributed a certain time before the meeting, and it must have minutes, distributed in a timely manner after the meeting.

General rules

A business meeting without minutes effectively never happened; a business meeting without a preceding agenda shouldn't happen! (Change it to brainstorming instead.)

The agenda typically consists of requests for action. It must be published in advance, and people should prepare as necessary. The agenda should be frozen when published -- no blindsiding, slipping in something controversial at the last moment is allowed.

If there are more than 5-7 people, those who wish to speak should be recognized by the facilitator. The agenda schedule should be kept -- if nothing else an action can be tabled for the next meeting or scheduled into a brainstorming meeting if it goes too long.

Stewards volunteer to champion the project and to act on things, with a deadline for completion. stunt doubles volunteer to help the steward stay on schedule, committees may be formed to support the steward if the action warrants.


  • A number of action item with names and dates attached, and
  • possibly a number of agreements that resolve requests.
  • People should feel like they've accomplished something afterward.


Keep the group on agenda. Keep them from solving the problems there; rather get them to agree to steward projects after the meeting.
Records as a minimum: start/end of meeting, those present, action items (with their steward and completion date), and agreements. Focus on actions and agreements, rather than discussions, unless facilitator has moved into "brainstorm" mode.
Help the facilitator by not only sticking to the schedule, but by giving warnings when allotted time is near, for example, "Two minutes left!".


Other than business meetings, we don't have to be too formal or structured about this. Different meeting types can be mixed in a single session -- as long as everyone understands that we are shifting gears as we change between meetings types.

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