Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Chairing Intergroup (or similar meetings): tips
· Ensure the secretary sends out the requests to officers for reports in a timely manner.
· Check the agenda drawn up by the secretary (date and time? All service positions mentioned under officers reports? Vacancies and elections correct? AOB correct, including items held over from previous meetings?)
· Check the treasurer's report in particular (opening balance = closing balance from last time? Does it cast (add up) correctly? Any unusual items? Are there are any obvious questions that attendants might ask? Can these be answered by the treasurer in the report before it gets distributed?)
· Make sure the secretary sends out pack including agenda, minutes from last time, and other reports from service officers in a timely manner.
· Read all of the reports and anticipate possible questions people may ask or other problems. Get the necessary information prepared before the meeting.
· Distribute the preamble, traditions, and concepts for reading. (Consider perhaps having them read round the room to break up the monotony and keep people's interest.)
· At the due time, start the meeting with a moment's silence and the readings.
· Request that officers and GSRs sign in on the sign-in sheets; explain them.
· Otherwise, follow the agenda.
· Make sure the meeting is closed by the scheduled completion time.
· Check the minutes for the secretary before they are distributed.
· Ensure the minutes and pack are sent out in a timely manner.
· The chair is the facilitator and person who steers the meeting.
· If anyone wishes to speak, they put their hands up, and speak when called upon by the chair.
· Choose people in the order they put their hands up, in as far as you can determine this.
o Make sure that officers do not go on too long when presenting their reports; part of the reason for written reports being distributed in advance is so that officers do not need to read out every word but can present the most important highlights.
o Allow space for questions to be asked if necessary.
o It is important to distinguish between discussion which consists basically in questions to and answers from the officer about something in the report, and a formal discussion concerning either a general policy or an actual proposal.
o In the latter case, it is best that such discussions are not imposed on Intergroup in an unconsidered manner. If something looks as though it could be contentious, it needs to be prepared for, with suitable background materials and time for consideration. It is a good idea for such matters to be tabled for the following meeting with someone (the officer or the chair or a small sub-committee) tasked with preparing information materials, which may include relevant quotations from the traditions, concepts, handbook, or other literature, so that an informed group conscience can be held. It is extremely rare for something to need to be decided then and there.
o If a discussion arises that becomes heated and it looks like there are strong views but not much information or forethought, it can be an idea to suggest that those with the strongest views on the matter form a sub-committee to put together some background on the question and to research what principles set out in the literature apply, so that a more informed and considered discussion can take place at a later date.
§ The officer presents the proposal.
§ Suggest an approach to participation:
§ Anyone who wishes to can comment. Suggest one minute max. per person. Ask people to wind up if they become long-winded. Be strict about no one sharing a second time until everyone who wants to has shared once. Once everyone who wants to has shared twice, move to a vote.
§ The only exception is where a point of fact needs to be clarified. The chair or the officer or whoever else has the information may obviously volunteer that without having to wait, as the discussion can become confused otherwise.
§ As chair, stay neutral. Offer only points of fact if necessary.
§ If the discussion goes off topic, ask participants to bring it back on topic.
§ If people become repetitive, say something like, 'does anyone have any new points that have not already been shared?'
§ Move to a vote: repeat the proposal and ask for a show of hands. 'Substantial unanimity' is suggested for major decisions (vs a simple majority of 50% for 'shall we have Bourbon Creams or Jaffa Cakes?') This is taken to be three-quarters of those eligible to vote.
§ Only GSRs and officers may vote. Each person has only one vote, even if they have more than one role.
§ If the matter is sensitive or could be taken personally, have a written ballot.
§ Make sure that the proposal is for a change, not for the status quo. Otherwise, change happens with something less than substantial unanimity, which is de-stabilising. E.g. 'we propose that Intergroup move to a new venue' rather than 'we propose that Intergroup stay where it is'. In the case of the latter proposal, you could have 20 in favour of staying and 17 against, the motion would be defeated, and you would move based on a minority vote, which would be absurd.
§ If you cannot get substantial unanimity, ask if there are any points that anyone would like to add.
§ Revote. If you still cannot get substantial unanimity, the proposal is dropped. It may be raised again in the future.
§ If a proposal is passed, ask if anyone has a minority opinion they would like to express. Once the person has done this, ask if anyone who voted 'yes' would now like a revote. If so, revote.
§ Minute the results.
o For reasons that need not be elaborated here, ad hoc discussions not listed on the agenda will often arise; Intergroup may be seen by some as a general forum for the voicing of opinions about all sorts of matters related only tangentially or not at all to the business of Intergroup.
o It should be remembered that Intergroup meetings are business meetings, not general sharing sessions like AA discussion meetings, where anyone can participate on whatever matters is gripping their attention.
o It is the chair's duty to watch out for rogue discussions and to swiftly shut down discussion not forming part of the Intergroup's business or to channel legitimate concerns into a proposal for a concrete discussion point, to be tabled formally and furnished with background material as indicated above, where relevant.
o It may be sensible as part of an annual group conscience of Intergroup to have a 'freestyle' sharing session, where any participant in Intergroup may bring up whatever concern they believe should be brought to Intergroup's attention. This is the proper venue for raising such matters.
o If these principles are not adhered to, Intergroup meetings can very easily become 20% discussion of legitimate Intergroup business and 80% ill-tempered, floundering argument with no clear purpose, background material, research, or prior consideration.
o Candidates are requested to hand in a CV in advance for distribution. This is a suggestion not a rule.
o In any case, they present themselves briefly to the group before the election.
o They leave the room for the election.
o Substantial unanimity is suggested.
o Congratulate successful candidates and thank others for participating.
o Make sure that the outgoing officer does a proper handover including notes like these; enable liaison with Region or other Intergroups if there is no outgoing officer.
o Every year, a budget is drawn up. This shows projected group contributions, plus projected costs. Each officer projects what costs he or she thinks he or she will require. If this is going to be substantially different than last time, the officer needs to explain why.
o The financial year runs from 1 October to 30 September, in line with Region.
o At the budget meeting (either September or November), the treasurer presents the results from last year (opening balance, incomings, outgoings compared to budget, contributions to GSO, and closing balance—both the opening and closing balance should show the amount held on behalf of any convention). He or she also presents the budget, explaining orally any major differences between this and last year's budget.
o If there are serious quibbles about a particular line, suggest passing the budget except for that item, which, if it cannot be resolved then and there, is deferred to the next meeting. This stops the budget process being hamstrung by debate or uncertainty concerning a single item.
o The officers then have the discretion to spend up to their budget limit throughout the year by requesting an amount in writing from the chair and treasurer, who then write a cheque.
o If they need more funds, this, and only this, needs to be presented to Intergroup for approval.
o This budgetary process means (a) officers can exercise 'right of decision' without having to refer everything back to Intergroup, whilst maintaining accountability and (b) Intergroup time is freed up hugely.
o When every single last cost has to be agreed individually by Intergroup, there will invariably be a reassessment of the whole 'idea', say, of PI or health liaison by Intergroup newcomers who take on the role of chief inquisitor. This is not typically helpful.
o Provided that the accountability mechanism is maintained through good reporting via the treasurer, this system works.
o The Intergroup should keep a prudent reserve. Discuss this with the treasurer, but one-quarter to one-third of annual costs of Intergroup seems reasonable, as the costs and income are not spread evenly over the course of the year.
o With regard to the prudent reserve, be extra cautious, however, when upcoming payments are due (i) for the Region contribution, (ii) the group insurance contribution, and (iii) the advance costs of any convention.
o Ensure that surplus funds over and above the prudent reserve (plus the amount Intergroup holds on behalf of any Convention) are sent up through the structure, via Region.
o One additional duty is to ensure that the secretary maintains a running record of 'Intergroup policies', e.g. what is set out above concerning voting procedures, the budget process, or other matters that have been agreed on formally or become the tradition of the Intergroup. It is important to maintain this record, so that formal decisions or other traditions are maintained and do not continually have to be revisited. This should always be sent out with the minutes.
o At Intergroup, we give copies of the following documents to incoming GSRs: (i) the World Service Manual (ii) the pamphlet 'the AA Group' (iii) the pamphlet 'the Twelve Concepts Illustrated'.
When these principles are applied, Intergroup meetings are swift, effective, good-natured, and to the point: in short, they fulfil Traditions One and Five. Participation on the part of GSRs tends to be much more enthusiastic, and service positions are much easier to fill.