Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Meetings made easy!

by Greg Goding PAGM
Special Envoy of the MW Grand Master
Chairman of the Membership Committee
United Grand Lodge of Queensland
quoted from the "Queensland Freemason Magazine"
May 2008

Once again we have to realise that we are trying to attract (and more importantly keep) men from a modern world. Many of those who we are trying to attract are already running their own businesses or are involved in professions and industries in a very busy world. They are well versed in streamlining the "paperwork' sides of their respective occupations.

We are living in a different world (which continues to change rapidly) and the way we conducted our meetings 30 years ago - even five years ago - no longer suits those men who we are trying to attract today.

There is simply no need to have long winded business parts to our regular meetings - in fact that side of our meetings should be able to be completed in about 10 minutes.

So how do we achieve this?

Before we can achieve this goal we have to understand what we are presently doing that is wasting so much time.

Reading of the Minutes.

Long gone are the days where we can waste time reading the previous month's minutes. It is a pointless exercise to read the minutes to those who were there last month what happened last month !!!!

They know what happened, after-all they were sitting there when it all went on !!!

Why on earth would we bore the death out of them by reliving word for word what went on? They don't want to hear it again and nor do your visitors.

A lodge is far better off and does a far greater service to the members of the lodge by circulating the minutes with the lodge Notice. This has been the preferred method of this Grand Lodge for several years. Unfortunately, we as an organisation have failed in communicating this important message to our lodges and the further out from Brisbane the more likely the minutes are still being read.

There is no good reason to continue this antiquated practice. There are however good reasons to circulate those minutes. Not the least being the fact that by circulating the minutes the 80% of our members who do not attend regularly are able to be kept informed in what is actually happening in their lodges. The worst that can happen is that those who don't attend may even recognise the fact that their lodge is starting to move out of the dark ages and some of those lost members may even venture back to see what other changes have been made since they walked away.

A sure formula for driving away those new members (who we so desperately seek) is to inflict on them a necessity for them to sit through the reading of the minutes.

Reading of the Correspondence.

In a modern world it is imperative that secretaries pre-read all correspondence and use a highlighting pen to pick out the "guts of the correspondence." How often do we see a secretary standing at his station looking from front to back searching for any relevant details while the rest of us sit bored out of our minds?

As we strive to better streamline the business we can use agendas which can be given out to the members at the beginning of the meeting listing the correspondence, both inwards & outwards. This means that the correspondence doesn't have to be read at all.

Obviously those letters which come from this Grand Lodge (ONLy) and marked "Please Read in Full" and that part of the AGSW's Report marked as such must be and should be read in full.

Treasurer's Reports.

Is it really necessary for the lodge's financial affairs to be aired in front of the visitors? Do they need to know what we have in our bank account? The answer is NO. Why not simply print up a very basic report with those accounts requiring payment to be given out as an agenda item for members only?

In these modern times of computers & emails it takes no time at all to prepare such agendas prior to the meeting. We have to start looking at ways to make things happen; not constantly giving excuses why they can`t happen. Why is it that ideas to streamline the business get implemented in the successful lodges?

Management Meetings.

All successful lodges utilise management meetings to streamline the business part of the meeting at their regular meetings. All correspondence can be read and any issues can be discussed in a far more relaxed format and decisions made. There is no need for the formalities of the regular meetings, such as saluting and directing all comments through the Master in the Chair.

These management meetings should be opened to all interested members regardless of their rank or position. There should be no such thing as a cabinet meeting or an executive meeting. The management meeting is the place for all issues which need discussion to be fully discussed and the recommendations of the management meeting are put up as the motion at the regular meeting.

Successful lodges have been using this system for years. At their regular meetings a member simply states that "at the management meeting it was decided such & such and I now formally move that ... etc etc." It is seconded and voted on. The discussion having been covered at that management meeting.

There will be those reading this article and are now thinking "that excludes those who want to debate the issue." In fact it excludes no-one as every member has the right to attend that management meeting. I am sometimes asked "what would happen if someone did want to challenge a motion in my own lodge?"

The answer is simple; everyone has the right to vote according to their conscience and can vote against any motion they wish to vote against.

However if it looked as though we were entering into a long winded debate it would be moved and seconded that all debate on the Issue be referred back to the next management meeting. What we would not do is bore the death out of our members & visitors or air our dirty linen in their presence.

The other question sometimes put to me is "what about those who might not be able to get to the management meeting?" My reply is simple; why does this work in all successful lodges (both city & country) - their members seem to be able to make it to their management meetings? The truth is members of successful lodges want to cut down the wasted time at their regular meetings and so they get along to the management meetings. If a brother is interested enough and wants his lodge to survive in a modern world he will make it to his management meeting. Keep in mind that many who attend their lodges regularly do not debate issues in those lodges now. Those who do can go along to the management meeting and debate themselves hoarse.

A management meeting in itself doesn't have to be all that long winded either. We have ours in the half hour before one of our practices. In fact on many occasions we struggle to find anywhere near enough "business" to fill that half hour.

Other Reports.

These can also take up far too much time and we need to become a lot smarter about our approach to them. A Building Committee Report or a Social Committee Report etc should be presented to the management meeting and a recommendation presented to the regular meeting for those same reasons as described previously.

An Almoners Report should be delivered in a professional manner allowing those attending to know about ailing members and wives. No comment should ever be made on the ailment or diagnosis. It is disrespectful and may well be incorrect. Secretaries should also include a precis of that report in the minutes so that all members know of the welfare of their fellow members - not just those who were at the meeting ...

Past Masters' Meetings.

These Past Masters' meetings are a sure way to divide your lodges and so destroy the opportunity to build the harmony within your lodges. For far too long we have kidded ourselves that the Past Masters are the "font of all wisdom" and are prepared to cut off their noses despite their faces by excluding the bright young minds of our Master Masons, Fellowcraft & Entered Apprentices.

Why would we exclude those long term Master Masons who, for whatever reason have chosen not to go through to the chairs of their lodge? In my own lodge we have a Master Mason of well over 30 years who is very highly respected and whose ideas & opinions are well trusted and sought by the rest of us.

In a successful lodge, in a modem world there is no place for Past Masters' meetings.

Need for some Trust.

I am yet to find the Secretary or Treasurer who is trying to destroy his lodge. They are all incredibly hard working and diligent members of our Craft and we need to put our faith in them. We need to trust their judgement and their love for the lodge. We need to allow them to make executive decisions when the need arises and be supportive of them.

There is a flip side to that of course and that is we must trust that our Secretaries & Treasurers are prepared to bring their roles into the 21st Century and not live in the past. They can have the biggest impact on whether that lodge is going to boom or bust. A progressive Secretary can make a lodge while an inflexible one can kill it.

Those successful lodges always have a proactive secretary who is constantly looking at ways to streamline the business. They never "grandstand" and see their role only as important as all other roles in the lodge not as the one who "runs the Lodge"

Some Points to Stream Line that Business Part of the Meeting

  • Tyle on time - it is a real discourtesy to start 10 minutes late.
  • The Minutes should have been circulated with the Notice Paper.
  • There is no motion necessary for the Minutes to be confirmed.
  • WM. .. "Brethren, the minutes of our last regular (emergent/installation) meeting held on
  • the having been circulated, they will
  • be deemed to have been read. All those brethren who consider them to be an accurate account of that night's proceedings please signify in the usual Masonic manner:"
  • The business part of the meeting should be over in 10 minutes (certainly no more than 15 minutes).
  • Secretaries should pre-read correspondence; highlight those important parts and not add a running commentary to anything. Their role is to read not comment.
  • Secretaries should provide an agenda for the Master (at the bare minimum and to all the members at the best) to follow.
  • A good agenda can be printed in such a way to assist a new or struggling Master with what he has to say as far as informing his members what the motion is ...
  • "Brethren, it has been moved and seconded that the inward correspondence be received and the outward endorsed. " ......... ''All those in favour, please signify in the usual Masonic manner ...... those for ...... against, if any .... carried." Knock.
  • Only that correspondence marked "Please Read in Full" and the Reports of the AGSWks need to be read in full. This applies to Grand Lodge correspondence only.
  • The Secretary should speak with his Worshipful Master at least 24 hours prior to the meeting to familiarize him with the correspondence. There should be no surprises for the Master on the night.
  • There should be no need for long winded discussion on anything at a regular meeting as it is boring for members and visitors alike.
  • There should never be any arguments about anything at a meeting - it is about the rudest thing you can inflict on a visitor or any member for that matter.
  • Management meetings should be utilised before the practice meetings to go through all lodge business in a less formal manner and where everyone can have their say.
  • Masters shouldn't have to ask for "someone to move and someone to second the motion" - it is simply a waste of time & words. Discuss it at the management meeting and pre-plan who will be moving seconding any motions - so that the meeting flows along ...
  • Pre-planning eliminates those "big pregnant pauses" that we see far too often while Masters, Secretaries and any member for that matter tries to get his thoughts together.
  • Treasurers' Reports should be as short as possible - is there really a need to tell our visitors just how much we do or don't have?
  • In a modern world those who we are trying to attract are bored out of their wits by long winded meetings with far too much waffle.
  • Their lives are full of meetings and so a nonprofessional meeting is about the most aggravating thing that we can inflict on them. They are used to short, precise and professional meetings and that is what we have to deliver.
  • We have to be careful that we are not the problem. We have to ask ourselves are we the ones wasting the time. Are we standing up to "grandstand" or is there good reason each time we rise to our feet?
  • General Business should be conducted in the same manner as the lodge reports. The issues and matters should have been discussed at length at the management meeting and a recommendation taken to the regular meeting as a motion where it is voted upon. There should be no need for lengthy discussions if the management meetings are being used effectively & correctly.
  • 1 st, 2nd & 3rd Times of Asking are quite often used incorrectly. The 1 st Time of Asking is for the sole prerogative and use of the Worshipful Master with no one else having the right to speak. The 2nd Time of Asking is for the use of only the members of that particular lodge. The 3rd Time of Asking is to allow any Visitor to speak.

It cannot be denied that the common factor in all successful lodges is the fact that they have recognised the need to reduce the business side of the meeting. Our lives are far too busy to waste the first 45 minutes of a lodge meeting with uninteresting waffle about things that simply do not need long winded discussion.

There is no point or benefit in being cynical or dismissing the suggestions I have made; for a lodge to be viable in five years time they have to be implemented now and that business part of the meeting has to be reduced to the bare minimum. It is absolutely imperative that we remember that we are trying to attract busy men who are living and working in the year 2008 not 1978.

Greg Goding PAGM
Special Envoy of the MW Grand Master Chairman of the Membership Committee

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