Managing Large Meetings
Large meetings can be unsatisfactory when people compete to talk and stop listening. The following notes describe a controlled and supportive process for handling a large meeting. This provides the efficiency of large conferences and the effective interaction of small ones.
I first learned this approach from Jef Mason of JMA. He developed it from earlier work by Barry Schuttler, a leading manager of local participation projects in the USA. Barry Schuttler called his approach “Charette“. “Charette” is a series of activities to involve people in decision-making.
A senior manager or expert gives essential information to a large group. This can be up to 150 people or more.
Divide the whole group into groups of eight to ten. Each group member lists questions that they require answers to understand the information. An outsider or a group member lists these on a flip chart. The group prioritises them, and an expert answers the most important ones. The flip charts are kept to aid the subsequent presentations.
Small groups meet as in (2) above. The people now list their reactions, comments and feelings about the information now they have understood it. The prioritised comments are collected from each group and responded to publicly by the Senior Manager.
4 Manager’s comments
The manager must not be defensive. Some comments will be challenging to handle. If no answer is possible, say so. It helps to say we don’t know yet. The manager should take time to anticipate some comments and to practice handling them in a win/win way.
5 Resources and skills required
The listing on flip charts must be done accurately and carefully, with time given for everyone to formulate questions and comments. A quiet inarticulate person may have valuable things to say. The Senior Manager must express the information clearly. Equally, they must be prepared to listen to and acknowledge unexpected responses. People value genuineness highly. Experts require patience and the ability to put things in simple language without being patronising. One person should act as the ‘Process Manager’ or MC. This person moves people from one section to another and keeps the programme on time.
This method creates rapid two-way communication about critical issues. It is lively, fun and motivating. It builds closer and more open relationships because it encourages trust and listening. The process has helped a car company manage change. It has also helped a company gain staff commitment to a profit-sharing scheme. The method could help any organisation increase the involvement and energy of its staff.