Consensus decision making is a highly skilled activity, that takes learning and practice to master.

The key to good meetings is understanding that what makes a good meeting is different for every person:
  • “In a good meeting everyone’s feelings are valued equally”. “In a bad meeting disagreements are taken personally, conflict is avoided and decisions deferred, and nothing gets decided.

  • “In a good meeting all the information is brought out and shared.” “A bad meeting is so boring. We spend the whole time hearing reports read out.”

  • “A good meeting is short and snappy and you leave with a solid action plan.” “In a bad meeting the action plan through is bulldozed through without time to air all the reservations and fears.”

  • “A good meeting is creative and generates new ideas that nobody came with”. “A bad meeting has no preliminary research on proposals and wastes time getting sidetracked with unrealistic ideas”.

Every group decision overrides some individual ideas, opinions, sometimes even basic values. To go along with this, people need to feel that the group is more important to them, and that they are more important to the group, than winning any particular point. At the same time, decision making is hard work and people can easily get burned out and find it just too hard if meetings are too long and fraught. Good meetings are ones that are good enough.

A good meeting balances the needs of the “water” to share feelings and opinions, the “air” people for clarity and fairness, the “earth” people for outcomes and action, and the “fire” people for creativity and fun.

Bad meetings happen when people believe their own style or taste is the “right” one, and the whole meeting should cater only to it.

This is an example of the kind of process we have found works:

1. Check In (5 mins)
A short game or round robin “hello, how are you.” For example, a weather report on your internal “weather” (fine and sunny? Unsettled?)

2. Choose a facilitator. Some people have a talent for this, but it's good to rotate to vary the style.

3. Agenda Generation (5 mins)
Write up on the board any agenda items that have been carried over or notified. Besides the notified items, have a quick brainstorm of any items of general business that people would also like on the agenda. Write them up without committing to get to all of them

4. News Headlines (10 mins)
In a circle, do news headlines - fast and snappy, stay on the point, limited to information everyone needs to know, if you have nothing to say, pass. Just the headlines and just information, not discussion. Larger reports should be on paper with multiple copies, and just the headlines pointed out. If there are decisions or actions needed, the item should go up as a proposed agenda item. Point out the time limit

5. Fill in the News and Sort Agenda (simultaneously) (10 mins)
• People can get up and move around, prioritise the agenda and find out more about anything they didn't know
• Efficient use of time – several tasks at the same time
• Quick and fair way to decide what most people most want to spend meeting time on.​​
Fill in the News:
If you need to know more about something, go see the person who gave the headline and find it out.
Sort Agenda
Some things on the agenda are more or less important, urgent, or interesting. Trying to deal with everything on the agenda can sometimes lead to meetings that are too long. Blood sugar gets low and people get cranky. Be willing to let some items fall off the end rather than feeling that everything suggested must be discussed.

One way to sort is to use 3 coloured pens. Ask everyone to mark one or two items each colour.
• Red is “quick, easy, must do this meeting”
• Blue is “big, important, must do, but might take some time”
• Green is “would really like to fit in if possible”
• White (nothing) is “can skip or hold over to another time if necessary”.

6. One or two fast, easy, least controversial items. (20 mins)
• To warm up, gain confidence and goodwill
• To get the good feeling of accomplishing something, even if we get stuck later on the harder ones.

7. Break (10 mins)

8. Hardest item/s (45 mins)
• Give this “prime” time slot to the hardest, most controversial, important item.

9. Other items we’ve sorted as important as time allows (30 mins)
• People will be less likely to turn molehills into mountains later in the meeting.

10. Circle of Concern (15 mins)
• Timed circle. One minute each to speak on anything you like. This is an opportunity for anyone whose agenda item didn’t make it onto the agenda, but who believes it is important, to speak about it. Also to bring up grievances, express appreciation, float ideas. No interruptions and no responses. If something needs following up, the meeting can decide under “Housekeeping” (next) how and when to follow it up.

11. Housekeeping (15 mins)
• How, who, and when to follow up anything that arose out of this meeting. Clear, specific list, including next meeting date.

12. Check out (5 mins)
Don’t let a meeting peter out, or business go on after people have started to leave or break into conversational groups. End formally. Thank everyone. Do something symbolic – pass a hand squeeze, song, prayer, chant, dance, group om, …