Roberta's Rules: Meetings and More

August 21, 2010


Filed under: meeting facilitation,Uncategorized — Roberta's Rules of Order, author @ 10:42 am

As the leader of a group, you are frequently faced with where sit to lead a meeting.  Unfortunately most conference tables are large and bulky rectangles or ovals, not usually round tables, the best option for engagement in meetings.

Round tables are best for small group meetings of about a dozen people because of the eye contact it allows.  Also, as the leader there is no “head” of the table, creating a more egalitarian environment.  This is important if you want the meeting of staff colleagues or board members to be more participative.

When there is a longer, large rectangular table, or those pushed together in to a rectangle or square, it’s also possible to create a similar tone by NOT sitting at the head of the table.  (See diagram)

At a recent meeting I was facilitating in a library, the large group broke smaller groups and moved from a soft chairs arranged in a large oval to rectangular library tables that sat about 10 people each.  Five guest speakers were each asked to “host” a different table for informal conversation.  EVERY guest chose to sit at the “head” of the table.

The tendency for the leader to take the “head” or “power” position may be intentional, to show their authority nonverbally, or accidental due to not knowing or thinking about the group dynamics.

When a leader is at the “short end” or head of the table, and all participants are at the “long ends”. At least 50% of the group is 50% further away from the leader.  It’s not always easy to see or hear the speaker well from the far end of the table.  You may have noticed that those further away from you often become more disengaged that the rest.

Next time you have a choice to lead from the “end” or the “center” of a table, try the center and notice that you (and they) will have better eye contact.  You will be closer to those you are leading.

I urge you to give it a try.  Please let me know if you notice any differences in the participation or quality of the meeting.


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