T.J. Sullivan

Meetings should not be mandatory

My mission to rid the collegiate leadership world of the word “mandatory” continues today with a rant against mandatory attendance at regular meetings.

This goes for fraternity/sorority chapters, student governments, residence hall associations, everyone. If you’re convinced you need to make meetings mandatory, and if you need to fine and threaten people in order for them to attend, then your members aren’t the problem.  Your crappy meetings are the problem.

You don’t need to have all members present to conduct business. Most reasonable organizations require only a majority of members in good standing to be present to conduct regular business.  If a segment of your members choose not to be at the meeting, then they lose their voice in voting and shaping the actions of the group.  If your current bylaws require some incredibly high voting percentage to conduct simple business, that’s worth a review. Organizations, companies, societies are run by the people who show up, care and take initiative.  Notice how our nation doesn’t require people to vote?  No one is getting arrested for failing to cast a vote for mayor, right?  We want to people to engage, and we encourage it, but engaging is a choice.  If voluntary engagement is good enough for electing a U.S. President, it might be enough for making choices in your student organization.

Mandating attendance creates and fosters bad attitudes. When you penalize members for not attending meetings, you just compound the problem of disengaged members.  You make them even more disloyal and separate. There is even less desire to contribute to your organization’s success. Mandatory meeting attendance results in bad attitudes and people in the back of the room texting. You have a better meeting when those in attendance want to be there.

Improve the content. If you are having interesting, meaningful meetings, then making them mandatory will be unnecessary.  People will want to come, or at the very least, they won’t want to miss out on something.  The design of a good meeting (chapter meeting, student government, program board, whatever) is something that is done deliberately.  Craft your meetings with meaty discussion, debate, problem-solving, a bit of fun, and a few cool surprises.

Decisions and action, not information. Stop making all the decisions at your executive council and start putting some of them to discussion and voting at your meetings. When is the last time you made a truly important decision in a meeting?  You are not asking them to consider and decide anything when they gather, so why is gathering even necessary? If your meetings serve primarily as an information exchange and reporting mechanism, then you need to reshape their purpose.  People can get information in much more efficient ways than a meeting.  If your meeting has devolved into a bunch of reports, then you are boring your members and there is no motivation to attend.

For representative councils… The answer is not to fine those groups failing to send representatives to your meetings.  The answer is to reach out to the leaders of those chapters or organizations and find out why they are feeling so disengaged from the council.  Why don’t they have someone actively at the table?  They probably see no benefit, or they feel as though their input is undervalued.  Fix that problem!  When an organization feels like your council matters to them, they will have their representative there.  Collecting their fines right now is doing nothing to strengthen your organization’s image or effectiveness.

Put yourself in a regular member’s place.  Do your meetings offer him or her anything?  Do your member walk out of your regular meetings feeling any better about the organization than when he or she walked in, or is that member simply wishing for the time back?

Get rid of mandatory requirements.  Fix your meetings, and make them better.  Then, invite people back to meetings to see how much they’ve improved.  Give them a role.  Ask for their ideas and opinions.  Make your meetings something people will (eventually) look forward to.  It takes a while, but it will strengthen your organization tremendously.

3 Responses to “Meetings should not be mandatory”

  1. Annie Ellis-Southern Miss says:

    This is really an interesting approach on meetings. I have always felt in the past, that if I didn’t attend meetings required by my chapter, then I would feel out of the loop and uninformed. However, since we have started using more effective ways of communication online, it seems that whatever I missed in meeting I can get from there. So the question is, is it worth other members’ time to attend meetings? I actually think so. Meetings, if effective, can also be time for sisterhood bonding and to share funny stories and events that happened to different chapter members. I hope that in the future, we can create a way to have our meetings be even more enjoyable, so that people will want to come for fun-not just because they will miss out on dates and event information.

    Something that can be effective is having an “open meeting,” where only announcements are made and then the rest of the time is devoted to activities that are enjoyable and encourage friendship and personal growth.

    Great insight!

  2. Mary Lois- Southern Miss says:

    I agree with you and Annie. I believe that meetings are efficient in ways for bonding but not really to get information to the members of the group. There are many ways to communicate with people in letting them know what is going on within the chapter, but meetings are that “official” viewpoint in knowing that you are a member of this chapter. I agree that sometimes meetings are a waste of time, but I always come out of meeting knowing something new or knowing what is going around on campus. It is very beneficial to me.

    Thanks for your blog!

  3. Daniel Cass says:

    I absolutely agree with this. Meeting SHOULD NOT be mandatory. Make it optional. That way you will easily figure out who your leaders are and who wants to be a part of your organization. It will be an easier way to weed out the people who don’t care.

    Daniel Cass
    University of Southern Mississippi
    Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity

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