Top 10 tips for... Successful staff meetings

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The staff meeting is a vital opportunity to demonstrate your leadership and ensure your school retains a sense of community. But we must avoid laboured events that send out the wrong messages and waste valuable staff time. Suzanne O’Connell offers 10 ideas for effective meetings

1, Short and sweet

A routine staff meeting should last for no more than 90 minutes – some would say that 60 minutes is the maximum length of time people can concentrate and contribute profitably. Start on time and finish on time and people will thank you for it. Be ruthless with your agenda:

  • What items can be covered through a bulletin, email or other means of notification?
  • What might be discussed at a phase or year meeting?
  • What doesn’t really need to be on the agenda at all?

A smaller group may be a better discussion forum, allowing those who are new or a little more timid to share their views.

2, No A.O.B

You might think that the A.O.B section of a meeting is a way of ensuring shared ownership of the agenda. But is it? Quite often you get to the end of the formal meeting only for A.O.B. to be hijacked by a member of staff with an issue, just as everyone else is longing to get away.

Anyone who wants to add something to the agenda should be able to make suggestions beforehand. Make sure that everyone has had sight of what you’re planning to talk about at least two days before and has had opportunity to make their suggestions. If it is suitable then include it, if not then find another means of addressing it – away from the full staff meeting audience.

3, Think it through

Staff meetings deserve careful preparation, no matter how busy you are. Make sure you have everything available that you need, laid out and organised. Office staff should be able to help you with this. You don’t want to feel flustered, especially if there are some difficult items to discuss. Think through each item beforehand. Who might have an awkward contribution to make? How will you phrase controversial items? Who can you look to for support?

4, Rotating chair

Yes, it is your responsibility – however, does it need to be you every time? Delegating a whole meeting to another senior leader or middle leader is good experience for them and gives you chance to see the meeting from another perspective. You might take it in turns or hand over when there is a particular issue that falls to another leader on the agenda.

5, What is the purpose of this item?

When putting your agenda together, be clear – what do you want from this item? What is its purpose? Is the staff meeting the right time and place? If you think it is, try to clarify exactly what you are hoping for by the end of the discussion. For example, don’t just write “break times” but specify – “to discuss filling absences on the duty rota”. This way you are less likely to have a whole range of other comments about break times leading you off track.

6, Time allocations

Identifying a time allocation for each item can be one way of keeping your meeting manageable. When putting your agenda together it also should provide a warning if you are being far too optimistic about the amount you can cover.

The downside of doing this, however, is the feeling of constant clock-watching and the need to cut people short. You might want to ask someone else to give a gentle reminder if you are going over the allocated time.

7, Agreeing the small print

Once you have agreed a broad-brush decision, you might want to delegate further discussion about aspects of it to another group.

There is no need for the whole staff to sign and seal the minutiae of a policy document, for example. Most people will be quite happy to allow a smaller group of those most interested to decide the detail.

In order to encourage people to take this on, you might want to organise a parallel meeting to your staff meeting so that people don’t feel that by volunteering they will lose more of their own time. You might even sacrifice the staff meeting itself but allocate different roles to different groups to discuss.

8, Keep a record

It can seem like an arduous job at the time but keeping a record of the actions you have agreed on and the outcome of any important decisions you’ve made is important. This does not have to be a detailed word-for-word description, but just the main points and who said they would do what.

9, Start off strong and end strong

Try to keep your meetings as upbeat as possible. Like a good story, you need a strong start to hook people in and a positive finish for people to remember it by. Thank yous and congratulations are always important. Include some directed at specific individuals but try and create a climate where everyone feels recognised. Take time to think of what you want your staff to take away with them from the meeting. How do you want them to feel?

10, How do they feel?

Take time to check how others see your staff meeting. Is it productive or just a time to drift off and think of other things. It can be difficult to ask sometimes but hopefully the answers will also give you some productive guidelines as to how you can make meetings better in the future.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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