PPS 1 Working in Groups

How to have a Meeting (Group Norms, Agenda, Minutes)

How to be a Chairperson

(Adapted from MPS 23, Donald Woods 2003)


What is it?

This unit covers the topics

  • How to have a Meeting
  • How to be a Chairperson


As part of those general areas we will also talk about working in groups and assessment of performance.

New Concepts

Agenda, Minutes, Group Norms, Role of Chairperson, Assessment of Performance,


Why Do It?

If you have attended meetings, you know that most of them are pretty bad.  The techniques in this unit can make them better.


You are likely to be involved in employee evaluation, certainly as the employee, but possibly also as a manager.  Practicing performance evaluation should help with that.


How to Do It

Meetings have two intertwined components, the tasks and the people.  We’ll call the task part Meeting Skills and the people part Group Process.


Meeting Skills

The rules for a good meeting lead to the important skills.

Rule 1:  Don’t have a meeting without good reasons.  These reasons become the Agenda

Rule 2:  You need a way to stay on track and within the time allotted.  The responsible person is the Chairperson

Rule 3:  If the topic was worth a meeting, it is worthy of action and worthy of recording.  Record Meeting Minutes with Action Items


Acting as Chairman (and Participant)

Meetings run better if there is a chairperson.  This individual is coordinator, not the leader of the meeting.  The leader, if there is one, is the person bringing key information or expertise and may vary with the agenda item.  The chair organizes and supports the process.  In this course, chairperson responsibilities will rotate with each meeting.  Review the Chairperson (and Participant) Responsibilities checklist (Page 4) and use it until it becomes second nature. 


The chairperson’s actions will be reviewed by each individual after each meeting using the Chairperson and Group Feedback Form (Page 5).


The participants also have responsibilities, which could include the ones listed on the Chairperson (and Participant) Responsibilities checklist.  The responsibilities should be determined by the group itself.  This is discussed in the Group Process section under Group Norms.


Making the Agenda

Don’t meet unless you have a compelling reason or reasons.  Those reasons will comprise the items on the Agenda.  This Agenda is published before the meeting and distributed to the members in a consistent and timely manner.  The Agenda tells the participants the Who, What, When, Where details of the meeting, tells them how to prepare for the meeting, tells them the topics to be dealt with, and tells them likely time frame for each item


An example of the Agenda Worksheet (Page 6) is attached.  Evaluation of the Agenda is by the instructor using the Agenda and Meeting Minutes Feedback Form (page 8).


Minutes of the Meeting

Nobody remembers what happened in a meeting two weeks after it occurred.  Many participants conveniently forget that they were supposed to do something.  To solve those problems, there must be a record of what happened and what tasks each of the participants was supposed to complete.  This is called the Minutes of the Meeting.  Fortunately, we can use the Agenda form as the basis for the minutes for Meeting Minutes Worksheet (Page 7).


The Action Items at the end of the form will clearly list the tasks for each person and the due date for completion of the task.  Progress on the tasks is reviewed in the following meeting.


Someone in the group other than the Chairperson should be designated the Recorder who is responsible for the minutes.  In our case, the chairperson for the next meeting is the logical victim, since the minutes will form part of the basis for the next agenda.  Evaluation of the minutes will be done by the instructor using the Agenda and Meeting Minutes Feedback Form (page 8).




Group Process

As engineers, we recognize that the work product or task is important, but may not realize that the group morale is also important.  You may get the task done, but if you destroy the human relationships in the process, the next task won’t go so well.  Companies know this, so employee evaluations generally have categories for how you interact with others (Table 1).  Since you will be evaluated on these factors and likely will have to evaluate others, we may as well start practicing.


Table 1  Employee Evaluation Topics




·       Knowledge, Skills, Abilities

·       Quality of Work

·       Quantity of Work

·       Work Habits

·       Communication


·       Dependability

·       Cooperation

·       Initiative

·       Adaptability

·       Judgment

·       Attendance

·       Punctuality


·       Leadership

·       Delegation

·       Planning and Organizing

·       Administration

·       Personnel Management



As an engineer, you may have been told you just lack interpersonal skills and can’t learn them.  (Those crazy psychologists will sometimes compare Asperger Syndrome (a milder form of autism) with “typical engineer personalities”.  http://crazyengineer.net/crazy/crazy_asp.php  http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers_pr.html.  (Just remember, psychologists picked that field of study to deal with their own problems.) 


Interpersonal skills in group work can be defined as how you behave in the team.  Behavior is composed of actions.  Actions can be controlled and can be learned.  In this course we want you to learn some useful actions to make the inevitable group work more effective. 


So, what are appropriate actions?  This depends a lot on the people in the group, the corporate environment, and the local culture.  Because it is so variable, each group should define for itself the important acceptable behaviors.  This list becomes the Group Norms.


Group Norms

Each group will determine what to expect from each other and set up their own working rules called group norms.  These norms may address how decisions are made, how conflicts will be resolved, which people are responsible for certain task, etc.  These group norms act as the foundations of the group process and are critical to maintaining a cooperative working relationship.


The first meeting of the group is one to determine these norms.  Possible topics and examples from other student groups are included in the Group Norms Section (page 9).  Note that compliance with group norms is evaluated in the Chairperson Feedback Form and in the Individual Contribution to the Team form.


Each group will evaluate its group processes after each meeting on the attached Chairperson and Group Feedback Form.  You will be able to tell if your group is getting better by looking at the trend of those numbers over the term.


Individuals can also be evaluated, both for task and morale issues.

Peer Assessment

Part of your course grade is determined by confidential peer evaluation using the attached form Individual Contributions to the Team. (Page 10) which includes categories for Group Process and Morale, and for Accomplishing Tasks.  Your average score from this evaluation (individual evaluations are confidential) will be compared with your other group members.  If you are a “typical member” and score close to the group average, you will receive the grade assigned to the group.  If you are significantly lower or higher than average for your group, your grade will be higher or lower than the group grade.




What you should Take Away from Working in Groups

  • Evaluation in this course and on the job involves both task and process
  • Group process is a collection of skills that you can learn.

 Chairperson (and Particiapant) Responsibilities

(Adapted from Woods)


In the Big Picture, the chairperson’s responsibilities are to:

  • To supply and maintain organization
  • Assure fair participation of all of the participants


Chairperson Checklist

Before the meeting

  • Get the right people to the meeting (decision makers, experts, stakeholders)
  • Create and distribute a detailed Agenda in a timely manner before the meeting
  • Make sure all parties have the information to find the meeting place at the correct time and to perform the tasks for which the meeting is called
  • Make sure that the location has sufficient resources (chairs, whiteboard, overhead, network connections, phones, ..)

At the meeting

  • Welcome and introduce the members
  • Establish the ground rules with group cooperation (how decisions will be made, how tasks will be divided, what processes will be used)  (Remind them of the Group Norms)
  • Keep discussions on track and in the time limits
  • Make sure everyone’s views are heard
  • Repeat and summarize views to clarify and to demonstrate listening
  • Try to get to Win/Win solutions
  • Make sure individuals have assignments and deadlines including providing the minutes

(For those who practice Machiavellian chairing)

  • Know the participants and prepare for likely problems from individuals or between opposing groups
  • Line up support for decisions before the meeting and don’t bring up contentious issues without knowing the outcome beforehand


Participant Responsibilities (subject to group Norms)

Meeting participants should:

  • Address the tasks
  • Maintain an attitude of respect and cooperation


Checklist for Participant

Before the meeting

  • Complete required preparation
  • Read agenda

At the Meeting

  • Show up on time
  • Listen to others (be able to repeat and summarize their views)
  • Speak up and support your own views
  • Stay on task and within time limits


  • Keep discussion on how the item being discussed relates relate to the established design criteria rather than personal attacks
  • Recognize that all decisions won’t go your way and be willing to work hard for things that you think are ill-advised (group loyalty)
  • Participate- do your share, volunteer for tasks
  • Support the team and the chair


Chairperson and Group Feedback Form

(adapted from Marlin and Woods, 2003)

(completed by each student at each meeting and given to the Chair)



Date: ____________

Evaluator: _______________________




Very Good



Do Over








time, location, notice






Agenda items

(proper topics, order, preparation)






Maintained process

(on time, on task)






Maintained fairness

(All heard and given opportunity to participate)












Performance of tasks






Overall morale



















Written Review of the Chairperson

Please list two to three items in each category.

These items can and should be drawn from Chairperson Responsibilities checklist (not extraneous comments like “lose the shoes, you look like a geek”.)

Plus (Things done well)                                  Delta (Specific improvements)














Task:        Issue defined, explored, alternatives considered, criteria identified, decisions made, assignments and deadlines defined

Morale:     members listen to others, feel open to make suggestions, to disagree, and to volunteer for tasks even when they are disappointed by group decisions

Agenda Worksheet

Adapted from Valiquet (Woods, 2000)


This worksheet shows a generic format for an agenda.  Depending on the type of meeting you are having, the format may differ.  Note that this agenda format exists as a Word Template.



Reason for meeting:        


Who:              (Stakeholders, experts, resource providers, decision makers)  (also include roles, chair, recorder)


When:            (best time for critical attendees)


Where:          (best location for critical attendees that has necessary resources, phone, network connections, overhead projector)


Pre-meeting Preparation:

  (bring copies of __, read ___, prioritize ___, list ___,


Meeting Objectives:  (statement of the specific goals of the meeting, distribute information, select a best __, establish areas of responsibility for __)


Agenda Items: 

                        1. ________ (t min)   (Note that the first item should be review and evaluation of the minutes of the last meeting.  The action items should be reviewed to asses progress on tasks)

                        2.  ________  (List item and allotted time for item)


Decisions:    (the printed agenda can include a place for participants to write down decisions)


Action Items:  (include a place for each person to write down what they need to do and when they should complete the work













Meeting Minutes Worksheet


Minutes are developed directly from the meeting Agenda.  Note that this exists as a Word Template if you wish to use it.



Meeting Minutes

A meeting of (name of Committee or Group) was held on (Date) at (Time) in (Location).


Attending were (list of names of those present with functional role such as chairperson or recorder. Can also include those missing with reason)  


The meeting was held to (list objectives)



            Agenda item 1:

                        (Since this is generally a review of previous minutes, it should include which action items from previous meeting were and were not accomplished)


            Agenda Item 2:

(State the major points of discussion and final resolution for each agenda item.  May include the names of those presenting ideas and method of resolution (vote, consensus).  Some items may be simply informational and can be stated as such.  Some items may not be resolved and so actions in lieu of resolution should then be listed (ex. tabled until next meeting, decision delayed pending information from accounting).


Action Items:  (The action items from this meeting can be in the form of a chart or a list.)























Agenda and Meeting Minutes Feedback Form

(filled out by instructor)



Date of Meeting: ____________




Complete, thorough

Good: small omissions & errors


Larger omissions & errors


Do Over







List of Who, When, Where












Agenda items












List of Who, When, Where






Shows each Agenda item and what was result






Lists resolution of previous action items






Lists each new action item, responsible person, and due date






Distributed in a timely manner and organized form







Written Review of Agenda and Minutes

Plus (Things done well)                               Delta (Specific improvements)



Group Norms

Many times the task is so compelling to a group (especially engineers) that little thought is given to the process of accomplishing a task.  If Susan assumes that all decisions will be by vote and Juan is looking for consensus, there can be unnecessary conflict.  Since several people are involved, some internal rules can help create a common set of expectations and reduce surprises. 


Possible areas for groups to develop expectations are shown in Table GN1 (derived from “Problem Based Learning Resources to gain the most from PBL” Donald Woods 1999).


Table GN1 Possible Issues for Group Norms



Choices (not exclusive)


What are good times, locations, for meetings?  Are attendance and punctuality important?  What is the expectation if you can’t come or will be late? 


Developing ideas


Group brainstorm?

Individual then Group?

Assigned to subgroup?

Decision Making

This is a critical area, since much of what a group does is make decisions, and its usually pretty messy.



Decision Matrix?

Have Bob choose?

Many others

Group Roles

You may want roles other that Chairperson and Recorder

Assigned roles?

Enforcer, checker, encourager etc.

Whiner, bully, sleeper, etc.

Group Contracts

You can ask each person to commit a set amount of time/ effort for the quarter, or define areas of responsibility

Commit x hours per week?

Agree to spearhead writing or experimental work?

Ignore it?

Avoiding yes man syndrome

Sometimes all members share faulty assumptions or are easily swayed by a strong member.

Assign one member to develop opposing arguments.

Ask for external review.

Agenda time

What happens when time runs out on an Agenda item. 

Vote and move on?

Schedule another meeting?

Take up to twice the assigned time?

All nighter!

Dealing with Conflict

Withdraw, accommodate, force, compromise, problems-solving/negotiate are five methods

Ignore it

If- then-else trees?

Ask for outside mediator?

Degree of Personal Interaction

Many people find that interactions with other humans are better after developing personal knowledge and understanding.

All business?

Begin with some personal (how’s the golf game), then do business?

Have periodic meetings just to share feelings and work on interpersonal relationships (not sexual)?

Personality types

Some believe understanding of others can be gained by knowing team members’ Myers-Briggs type.

Explore type differences?

Just do the work?

What’s your sign?

Dealing With Nontechnical Problems

What if one member doesn’t do assigned work, produces poor work, doesn’t shower, is way bossy?

Ignore it?

Assign a member to “have a chat” with the person.?

Ask for an outside mediator?

Get socks and soap?


What do you do if someone doesn’t follow the group norms?

List of rules and punishments?

Record infractions in the minutes?

Handle informally and individually?



 Individual Contributions to the Team:

 Enter initials of group members at top of columns and rate them in each category.








Group Process and Morale







   (10)  Initiated ideas, directions, inspired others, volunteered

    (5)   Willing follower, took direction easily, some volunteering

    (0)   Frustrated the group, blocked progress, no volunteering






Cooperation/Followed Group Norms

   (10)  Always followed group norms

    (5)   Usually followed group norms

    (0)   Rarely followed group norms






Attitude/Active Group member in Morale

   (10)  Positive, encouraging, helped others work better

    (5)   Neutral, worked well without enthusiasm or complaint

    (0)   Negative, complained, whined about tasks and people






When Acting as Chair

   (10)  Excellent Schedule, Agenda, Monitoring, Morale …

    (5)   Adequate Schedule, Agenda, Monitoring, Morale …

    (0)   Poor Schedule, Agenda, Monitoring, Morale …







   (10)  Worked very hard on assigned and volunteer tasks

    (5)   Worked reasonably hard

    (0)   Put forth little or no effort






Accomplishing Tasks







   (10)  Found very useful papers, people, web sites

    (5)   Found moderately useful papers, people, web sites

    (0)   Gathered little or no useful information






Communication – Oral and Written Reports

   (10)  Organized and/or produced significant parts of report

    (5)   Contributed a reasonable share to the reports

    (0)   Did little or no part of reports






Individual Assignments (not Reports)

   (10)  Completed all tasks on time and helped others

    (5)   Did most tasks, usually on time, some with help

    (0)   Task left undone, late






Technical/Subject Knowledge

   (10)  Very useful grasp of technical side of project

    (5)   Reasonable understanding of technical issues

    (0)   Superficial or confused grasp of technical issues






Accuracy, Quality

   (10)  Excellent work product, well polished, no mistakes

    (5)   Good work that needed some polishing, correcting

    (0)   Work product not usable as-is, needed major rework






Big Picture






Would I work with this person again

   (10)  Absolutely, anytime, sign me up

    (5)   They would be a satisfactory group member

    (0)   I would rather stick a fork in my eye






How would removal of this person’s contribution affect the group’s final product.

   (10)  Major loss: key contributions, large work volume

    (5)   Proportional loss, fair contribution

    (0)   No change, or actually improved






Adapted from C.M. Crowe and D.R. Woods, McMaster University


Comments: Add comments here or on back of sheet.

PPS-1  Meeting Assignment

The group’s first meeting will have a single Agenda item, to develop group norms.  This meeting will have no Action Items.  The list of group norms will be shown in the minutes of the meeting


Learning Objectives:

  • Practice the skills of being an effective chairperson
  • Practice the skills of being an effective group member
  • Practice giving and receiving feedback
  • Create an Agenda consistent with good professional practice
  • Write Meeting Minutes that are consistent of good professional practice



This is a group assignment.  One package per group is submitted.



For each of the assigned meetings you will turn in the following items

·                     Agenda

·                     Meeting Minutes

·                     Chairperson and Group Feedback Forms from each person



The package is due within three business days of the date of the meeting unless otherwise stated.



The Agenda and Meeting Minutes Evaluation Form will be used to evaluate the Agenda and Meeting Minutes. 


Each of the Chairperson and Group Feedback forms will be evaluated as follows

Full marks – Sincere and complete with meaningful feedback

Half marks – “Hurry up and get it done” attempt with marginally useful feedback

No marks – Missing form or minimal effort without useful feedback