Later this year we will be hosting an interactive two-day workshop aimed at providing social work practitioners with confidence and understanding of how to effectively chair meetings.
Here, course trainer Martin Bailey has outlined his top tips for how to improve your chairing skills.
Chairing meetings can feel daunting, particularly if you are new to doing it or you are working with more difficult and vulnerable people. It can feel hard to know when to step in, when to let people talk or when to stop them talking. Parents often struggle and might not understand what is really going on. They can become ‘resistant’ perhaps. Professionals might not be truthful in the meeting and tell you things afterwards which they should have said during the meeting. And you need to get the meeting to end on time too!
Whether you are faced with difficult professional dilemmas, feel a bit overwhelmed or are excited about taking on a new challenge, the following tips can help you to get the best out of yourself and help the meeting to be successful.
Tip 1: Preparation.
It is rare that anyone can walk into a meeting with no preparation and get the best outcome for the child. It might be that we are forced into this situation, but it is not ideal.
Tip no1. Is preparation. That means choosing the right venue and seating arrangements; giving people notice; sending out agendas and making sure any equipment is working fully.
It is important to prepare both parents and children. Making sure they understand who is attending, what the purpose and power of the meeting is and what will happen during it. It’s not fair to leave a parent thinking that a meeting can ‘take the children away’ if it cannot.
Equally, if a meeting might recommend escalation, it is important to be honest at the outset.
The final preparation is about you - the chair. Making sure you are in control professionally and ready personally. Take a few slow breaths in and out; visualise a good outcome; remind yourself of your good skills. Whatever works for you, just take a few moments to prepare yourself.
Tip 2: Balance 4 things
Chairing can be all about balancing competing issues.
I like to try and keep four things in balance which will guide me when to step in or step back as required.
First, the process. I want to make sure we start well, cover all the items on the agenda and end with clarity on what will happen, who will do what, by when and what will ‘better’ look like. To do this I will need to make sure the people feel listened to, respected and valued. This will include bringing them in and asking them to hold back at different times.
To be able to manage the process, I need to manage the people and their behaviour too.
Third, I need to manage the hopes, fears and expectations of the parents, children and professionals. These might run high and we might have difficulties. To manage the process and people’s behaviours, their emotions need to be understood, perhaps explored, but also ‘held safely. Members will look to me to do this.
If I manage the process, people’s behaviours and emotions, I can also balance the decisions and outcomes. When I give the right amount of time and space for options to be considered and ask ‘What if we tried this?’ or ’How about…?’, I can better reach the best conclusion for the child.
By having these 4 themes in balance (process, behaviours, emotions and outcomes) I can keep in control, listen and lead the meeting all at the same time.
Tip 3: Transferrable skills
Chairing a meeting requires me to initiate activity, to ask questions and find out information, to hear different opinions, to elaborate on things, to coordinate a plan, to encourage parents and professionals, to mediate, to bring people in, to compromise and to be authoritative. I firmly believe that you will already have at least some of these skills that you can transfer into the role of chairing meetings.
When we focus on our strengths and try to use them in new situations, we grow personally and professionally. It can help to write down a list of your best strengths that you can transfer into chairing meetings and be ready for the next opportunity.
Whether you are new to the role or experienced, it doesn’t matter. Be well prepared, look to balance the process, the people, their emotions and the outcomes by using your strengths and you will be on the way to chairing productive meetings.
If you have found Martin’s advice helpful, why not book onto the two-day training course which will take place in Luton on the 12th and 13th September?