Room Arrangements for a Successful Meeting

An important role for a committee chair or facilitator is to ensure that everyone present has the opportunity to participate in the deliberations. This means being able to see and hear each other. Some room arrangements facilitate communication and interaction more than others.

For small groups, a "U" shape or open square arrangement is ideal - everyone can see everyone else and the shape by itself suggests interaction and equal participation. Those same shapes, however, can be deadly when groups get over 20 or so. Suddenly the huge empty space in the middle yawns. Each side of the "U" or square becomes so long that people are actually quite far from each other, making it difficult to hear and see others. Ironically, the same shape that creates such a warm atmosphere for small groups becomes counter-productive for larger groups

For groups over 20, consider a herringbone arrangement of tables and chairs with 4 or 5 people at each. These arrangements enable people to easily see and interact with others, not only at their own table, but at the tables around them as well. Have as many tables as are required so that no one must sit at an uncomfortable angle to see what is happening at the front.

Committee decisions often benefit by some small group discussion before the group as a whole makes a decision. Consider in advance whether separate breakout rooms are needed. If the room is large, participants can spread out by moving their chairs to various corners. If there is not room to spread out, the noise level can make it almost impossible for the groups to accomplish their work. This noise level is particularly uncomfortable for participants with hearing aids.

Ironically, the same shape that creates such a warm atmosphere for small groups becomes counter-productive for larger groups.

Breakout space doesn't necessarily need to be another formal meeting room. In thinking of alternatives, consider having groups go outside to work, weather-permitting. There may be lounge areas or a lobby to which small groups could go for their working session. At one memorable meeting, a small group met in the lounge adjoining the ladies room! The point is to consider ahead of time what kind of space is required for the work to be done.

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