Ethics and governance | Locale Learning

Five ways to increase your impact in a council meeting

by | 20 July, 2022

What is the purpose of council meetings?

Importantly, council meetings are the mechanism for elected councillors to make decisions about policies and programs of the council to meet the needs of the community. They are open to the public and are usually made available online too. This means a high level of scrutiny and accountability for your decisions. Council meetings also reflect how well your council is governing.

In consideration of the importance of council meetings, the Chamber is a place where councillors need to be on their game and ready to represent their community to the best of their ability. In reality, council meetings can be high pressure situations and in the heat of the moment it is easy to lose your way.

Knowing the Code of Meeting Practice and Code of Conduct is necessary so that the meeting runs smoothly and effectively. However, you need additional skills to be an active and contributing voice in the Chamber. And to make considered and well-informed decisions as part of the governing body. We have put together a list of what we consider to be the five critical components to help you stay on track and make impact.

Five P framework for council meetings

1. Purpose

Remember the primary purpose of a council meeting is to make decisions as a collegiate body in order to achieve the vision for your community. In a practical sense, this means passing lawful resolutions which the General Manager can implement and get stuff done.

Whilst you are also there to debate issues that are important to your community, don’t get side tracked with procedural motions, politicking and grandstanding. And if you feel yourself getting drawn into these distractions, come back to your integrity and choose “courage over comfort” (Brene Brown). Importantly, turn up with purpose! Bring a positive and productive mindset to the meeting.

2. Preparation

Preparation is key. Be familiar with the agenda and identify items in the business paper that may be controversial and involve debate. Consider points of contention and be prepared for conflict and diverging views by informing yourself of the issues and topics to be discussed. This means reading the background papers, chatting to fellow councillors and attending pre-meeting briefings with staff to understand more complex or controversial matters.

Consider whether there is sufficient information in the business papers to support your decision making. Think about what questions you might need to ask to be better informed – either before or during the meeting.

Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your level of preparation

 

This quote comes from Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss (adapted from an anonymous quote) and is a great mantra for approaching council meetings.

3. Process

Process is your best friend. Remember it is your role as a councillor to follow the rules in the Code of Meeting Practice and the Code of Conduct. It is the Chair’s role to facilitate the meeting in accordance with the rules. Know the meeting rules in both Codes. Consider how they apply to you in the meeting. What conflicts might you need to manage? What processes do you need to follow to achieve the desired outcome?

4. Personalities

At the end of the day, councils are a group of humans coming together to make decisions. This means there will be human dynamics that you need to be aware of and manage. Take some time to reflect on the communication styles and personalities of other councillors as well as council staff. Be aware of your own communication style!

Remember that active listening is the most important communication skill and that you will do way more listening in the Chamber than speaking! Have an awareness of group dynamics and what stage you may be in as a group (Eg: The ‘forming, storming, norming, performing’ model or the five dysfunctions of teams model). Observe your own and fellow councillor’s body language, tone and interactions with each other during the meeting. Take note of what you are seeing and hearing in the Chamber and reflect on how you might be able to contribute more productively, in consideration of the observations you have made.

5. Politics

We must not forget that local councils are governed by a democratically elected group of people. Expect some level of political wrangling before, during or after the meeting. A solid strategy is to focus on common ground and points of agreement. Also focus on how you will find an outcome that is in best interest of the community rather than progressing a set agenda.

Wrapping up

Following our five step framework will help you to make positive impact in the Chamber. It is likely other councillor’s and staff will notice the way you are conducting yourself and there will be a ripple effect. Why not share this blog with your fellow councillors to support the overall function and performance of your Council.

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