Department Chair and Program Director Guide

Section Five – Department Meetings and Interpersonal Communication


Easy and constructive communication within the department is an important indicator of department health. Are individuals comfortable coming to the chair for assistance with individual needs? Are they comfortable talking together about issues common to the department? Are they able to disagree but still come to an acceptable resolution? Answers are what we hope for, but they don't always come naturally. This section focuses on topics that can help foster positive communication and professional relationships within the department.

Department Meetings – 5:1

Conversations about departmental matters should be forward-looking and constructive. In support of this goal, we provide the following steps to help guide department meetings.
  1. Clarify objectives: All members of the department should submit items to the meeting agenda by noon three days in advance of the meeting (e.g., noon Tuesday for a Friday meeting). Late submissions will be held over for future meetings. The meeting chair will distribute the agenda no later than noon two days in advance of the meeting (e.g., noon Wednesday for a Friday meeting) and will ensure that everyone has access to any relevant background materials. In the case of lengthy agendas, the meeting chair will have the discretion to defer non-urgent items to future meetings. If there is nothing on the agenda, the meeting chair will reach out to cancel no later than noon two days in advance of the meeting (e.g., noon Wednesday for a Friday meeting).
  2. Stay on task: The agenda should include an allocated time for each topic, which should be strictly adhered to; the meeting chair will serve as timekeeper for each meeting.
    a. Prepare in advance: Participants should review the agenda and background materials in advance of the meeting. Advance preparation will help to make the best use of meeting time, and can improve the quality of discussion.
    b. Be on time: Starting on time requires discipline by the meeting chair and participants. Arriving on time and finishing in a timely manner shows consideration and respect for colleagues and their time. (Keeping the agenda realistic is important, of course; see the note above about the meeting chair’s ability to defer agenda items.) Finally, if only 20 minutes are required to accomplish the meeting objectives, the meeting should end after only 20 minutes.
  3. Stay on topic: The meeting chair should keep the meeting agenda on topic and moving efficiently. If a colleague is monopolizing the conversation, the chair should respectfully interrupt to allow input from others. Likewise, if the discussion moves off topic, the chair should interject to defer the newly-introduced topic to a future meeting.
  4. Enforce a technology-free zone: In order to minimize distractions, only the assigned recorder should bring a laptop or other device to the meeting for the purpose of recording minutes.
  5. Treat everyone with respect: Express opinions responsibly, focusing on issues and topics at hand, not on people or differences, speaking both honestly and kindly. This is the foundation for all of the following additional expectations.
    a. Do not interrupt: We all interrupt at times either by mistake or while trying to build on other’s statements. However, you should wait to speak until a colleague has finished speaking or you have been invited to speak.
    b. Express yourself concisely: Brevity acknowledges the value of other’s input and time.
    c. Engage other’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions: Meetings have greater value and richness when everyone has a chance to participate. This includes gracious acceptance of opinions different from your own.
  6. Follow up after the meeting: It is quite common for individuals to come away from the same meeting with very different interpretations of what went on. To reduce this risk, wrap up meetings with a clear statement of next steps and who is responsible for those next steps.
    The meeting recorder will email minutes within one business day following the meeting (e.g., by noon Monday for a meeting held Friday morning). The minutes will document the responsibilities given, tasks delegated, and any assigned deadlines so that everyone has a common understanding of actions taken and next steps.
    Note, the primary purpose of minutes is to create an official record of the actions taken at a meeting. Minutes are not intended to serve—nor should they serve—as an exact account of who said what and when. As such, minutes should only include actions taken by the committee and not provide a record of conversations, lenghty rationales for decisions, or any other information.
    Individuals are responsible for reviewing the minutes and responding with suggestions for revisions within 24 hours (e.g., by noon Tuesday for minutes sent Monday at noon). Faculty members will respond to the recorder and meeting chair directly, rather than through “reply-all.”

Meeting Agendas – 5:2

Based on Robert’s Rules of Order (10th edition, pp. 342-351), with comments and revisions added.

The agenda is a detailed list of specific items, in the sequence in which they will be covered. Use a consistent order of business from meeting to meeting and distribute copies of the agenda in advance so members know what issues will be discussed at the upcoming meeting. A typical order of business for a regular department meeting might be:

  1. Approval of the minutes. Motion to approve is not necessary. The minutes are either approved as read or as corrected, but without a vote.
  2. Reports. This includes report from the chair, special committees, working groups, etc.
  3. Unfinished Business. Any issue which was not concluded, was postponed, or was tabled during the prior meeting.
  4. New Business. This is the time that new business is introduced.
  5. Good of the Order. General discussion about the work of the department, announcements, guest speakers and so on (not business or motions).
  6. Adjournment. A motion to adjourn may be made at any time of the meeting. The assembly should never be forced to meet longer than it is willing to meet.

Template Documents – 5:3


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Last modified: 31 August 2019, by Shanon Nowell