An important aspect of a councillor’s role is the effective chairing of meetings. For both councillors and managers, meetings serve as a forum for discussion and agreement, planning and monitoring, communication and leadership.
When chaired well, meetings can challenge, inspire, illuminate and inform. Whether it is committee meetings in council or meetings of residents and groups in your local area, meetings are a mainstay of the political management process.
Chairing council meetings can sometimes be a demanding process because of the personalities involved. People respond in different, sometimes unpredictable ways when trying to convince others of their point of view – particularly when this is overlaid with the essential politics of local government.
Arguments are common and conflict is not unusual. This is true enough in one-to-one situations, but is particularly so in group meetings. Here (see below), two of the LGA’s member peers consider what makes for effective chairing.
Any meeting of more than two or three people will need someone to control and referee it.
The chairman should have enough experience and knowledge of the subjects and matters to be dealt with during the meeting, and be well acquainted with the standing orders regulating how meetings are conducted. It is the chairman’s job to remind the meeting of those, and the fact that they will be enforced.
A good chairman will insist on being involved in putting together the agenda – after all, he or she will need to understand why the meeting is being held and what the objectives are.
There should also be a very even-handed or independent way of running each meeting, because if the chairman can be seen as biased they could lose credibility and the respect of the meeting, making it far more difficult to control.
Every chairman should be strong, fair, knowledgeable and business-like. But if they can add a little humour at the right time to lighten the mood, it normally benefits the way a meeting reaches its decisions.
Councillor Tony Saffell, Independent Group Leader, North West Leicestershire District Council
The hardest part of chairing meetings is, of course, managing time and members!
Many councillors speak ‘off the cuff’, jotting down some key words or thoughts as a reminder of the points they want to make. Others write down all they want to say… so in a three-minute intervention, that’s about 450 words.
In my experience, good chairs build consensus, giving time to the important topics, knowing when to interrupt a speaker straying from the point and, at times, being firm when the need arises but also willing to laugh at themselves as well.
We’ve all been in meetings when tensions run high. A good chair will seek to calm things down and when things are said in the heat of the moment, a gentle encouragement to reconsider and apologise will always be better than a complaint to the monitoring officer.
In short, we chair with the support of the meeting; we need to keep the standard high, everyone engaged, a voice to all and an eye on the clock.
Councillor Alan Connett (Lib Dem), Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources, Teignbridge District Council