Chairing meetings 

Effectively chairing a meeting means creating a comfortable, open space for people to listen to each other; facilitating meaningful discussion; and arriving jointly at agreeable action points. The success and productivity of meetings depends on how well they are planned. The willingness of the participants to work together toward your purpose depends on how well you facilitate discussion, respect points of view, and keep the meeting on track.

Planning a meeting

Focus the purpose, identify the desired outcomes, and consider the perspective of the stakeholders.

Purpose falls into four broad categories, and you may have more than one purpose in a single meeting. Your purpose will guide how you approach the interactions during the meeting. When planning a meeting, consider which of the purposes and desired outcomes in the table below will be relevant for your meeting.  In every case, carefully consider the stakeholder perspectives and expectations as you plan.

Read more 

Meeting Purposes

Desired Outcome(s)

Consider Stakeholder Perspective and Expectations


Facts and information will be shared, questions answered

  • Shared understanding of the facts and information presented
  • All questions addressed or followed up
  • Understanding of how the information can or should be used
  • Get any fears or concerns out in the open
  • Collect views of the information/situation to inform future actions
  • Why is this important to us?
  • Who is affected?
  • Is this agreeable to us?
  • What are the impacts – favourable and unfavourable?
  • Will our needs be met?
  • Has a decision been made?
  • Can we influence a decision?
  • Does our opinion have weight?
  • Do we have to change something we do?
  • What may raise concern or resistance?
  • How are we involved going forward?
  • Who can and should know this information?
  • Who has accountability for what?
  • What resources are available?

Problem Solving

A situation requires change; a course of action must be agreed to

  • Shared understanding of the current situation
  • Shared view of what must change
  • Get any fears or concerns out in the open
  • Concrete actions agreed to
  • Roles and responsibilities designated
  • Checkpoints/deadlines set


Future activities will be scoped out and responsibilities designated

  • Shared view of a desired future
  • Get any fears or concerns out in the open
  • Concrete actions agreed to
  • Roles and responsibilities designated
  • Checkpoints/milestones set


Past actions to be examined in relation to criteria or expected outcomes

  • Shared understanding of the actual results
  • All questions addressed
  • Collect views of the information/situation to inform future actions
  • Follow up actions agreed to
Develop the participant list and invitation with the stakeholders’ perspectives in mind. Think about the concerns of the people coming to your meeting. Check that your list is inclusive of those affected by asking one or two trusted stakeholders to advise you about others to include.

Read More

  • Consider how much time is needed to accomplish the purpose. UN meetings are typically 30 or 60 minutes – if the purpose requires more time explain why in your invitation, or arrange several sessions.
  • Clearly state the purpose of the meeting and your expectations for preparation (what participants need to do in advance and what they should be prepared to do at the meeting) in an email. This allows them to consult colleagues as needed to fully prepare.
  • Attach relevant material for preparation. Invite the recipients to contact you with any questions they may have in advance of the meeting. Explain who has any supporting role (collating advance questions, compiling presentations, etc). Follow the email with the calendar e-vite and agenda. Send a reminder and check that people have the preview material.
Develop a process for accomplishing the purpose of the meeting. Consider the participants and the work they are to do at the meeting, and which methods will produce the result you seek.

Read More

Prepare a brief summary presentation of key points most pertinent to the result of the meeting; avoid restating everything the participants reviewed in advance. You want to use the meeting time to hear from the group. 
Choose methods of gathering input that best fit your purpose 

  • Consider if there is a preferred or logical order to the participants’ input that you wish to suggest
  • The tour de table allows everyone a chance to speak and is a good starting point for identifying patterns of agreement or concern
  • Key questions posed for brainstorming can generate options
  • A course of action may be deliberated by asking participants to list all the points in favour and all of the counterpoints
  • In a larger group, specific areas or questions can be assigned to breakout groups who discuss and report back to the plenary.

Leading a meeting

Prepare the room before people arrive with places at the table for everyone and name cards, if appropriate. Set up any presentations and run through the slides, videos, etc. to become familiar with the equipment, as well as any easels for writing during the meeting. When participants will be connected to the meeting via telephone or video, establish and test the connections prior to the starting time. Have any materials to be distributed ready and email the file in advance to remote locations.
Set an open and inclusive climate, starting when people enter the room. In most meetings people have not all met each other; get informal introductions started. Call the meeting to order within five minutes of the starting time.
Make opening remarks:

Read More

  • Thank everyone for participating and for contributions to the preparation of the meeting or inputs to the meeting
  • Address any remote locations and ask them to introduce who is there.
  • Review who is at your location.
  • Restate the purpose and expected outcomes of the meeting.
  • Refer to the agenda and check for agreement that it represents the scope of the meeting; clarify as needed.
  • Refer to the advance material/handouts and indicate what people need to have in front of them for the discussion.
  • Say how you, or others, will lead the meeting – roles that have been designated, how you will work together, taking questions at certain points, overview of how the time will be used. Include how you will give opportunity to the remote locations for input.
  • Say how decisions will be made (in the meeting, after the meeting, by one or more persons, by consensus).
  • Indicate who will keep a record/ take notes during the meeting.
  • Check for agreement from the group before moving ahead.
Use verbal skills during discussion to encourage participants to express ideas, to listen, and manage differences. People will follow your lead when you model techniques such as these:

Read More


  • What I hear you saying is...
  • If I understand correctly, your concern is...
  • To recap, your point is...

Drawing out

  • Tell us more about ...
  • Can you give an example?
  • What do you mean when you say...?


  • Building on your idea, what if we...
  • Adding to your thought, another option is to...
  • In addition to your suggestion, we could also...


  • What your plan offers us is...
  • I agree with the part where...and where I have a concern is...
  • As we continue our thinking, I see a disadvantage in...
Summarize the action points, restate the agreements, and check for shared understanding before closing the meeting.

Read More

  • Action steps: making sure all participants in the meeting agree to the decisions that have been made and that the persons responsible are authorized to carry them out.
  • Deadlines: clarifying when the actions will be done or completed.
  • Follow up open items: deciding how areas needing further work will be followed up
  • Involving others not present: stating who is to be contacted
  • Documentation: distributing information and a record of the meeting
  • Close with thanks to all and invite people to share further views and questions through email or phone.

Building networks and partnerships

Read More

Networks and partnerships are built on the basis of mutual exchange. Consider the other teams around yours and the interconnections in your work activities. Look for opportunities to be valuable to others with similar interests and projects, and they will likely return the effort.  
Some strategies:  

  • Offer others your help with a challenge –  suggest joint brainstorming or to act as a sounding board for ideas.
  • Build a reputation for reliability by immediately following through on what you and your team promise. This builds the trust that makes others think of you when they need formal or informal help.
  • Join the Unite Connections groups that are relevant to your work and interests, and post relevant comments or articles that show you are engaged with the issues. Make sure your team members participate.
  • At meetings, ensure that you introduce yourself to anyone you have not met.
  • Personalize your emails and phone calls with a short reference to the other’s work or something that is a current interest. The human touch is always welcome and it is remembered.
  • Suggest some face-to-face meetings with newer contacts and at regular intervals with colleagues who share common work challenges. Balance the use of time with opportunity to build the relationship.
  • Grow your network by connecting people when you believe they can benefit from each others’ experience or expertise.

Navigating a political organization

Understand the formal hierarchy

The UN System organizational chart presents the reporting structure. 

> UN System Organizational chart 

  • The General Assembly (GA) is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN. Each country has one vote. Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority.

    > Go to the General Assembly site

  • The General Assembly accomplishes its work largely through the work of six main Committees. The Fifth Committee has responsibilities for administration and budgetary matters and its reports are the basis for approving the budget of the Organization.

    > Go to the Fifth Committee site

  • The Secretariat carries out the day-to-day work of the Organization, services the other principal organs of the United Nations and administers the programmes and policies laid down by them, led by the Secretary-General. The reporting landscape is further defined by the functional Secretariat structure of Departments and Offices.

Recognize the unique political challenges in the UN

Through the UN the countries of the world address global challenges that can only be solved together. This makes consensus highly desirable, and the number of countries and perspectives involved makes it hard to achieve. It is a challenge for staff of the UN to support this work, keeping the interests of the UN only in view, and not acting on behalf of any Member State. Funding the efforts is always an issue, as the Member States’ contributions are the major revenue source. Budgetary questions and decisions must be weighed and determined relative to mandates and priorities. For the staff, the decisions may not always provide what was hoped for, but they must always be carried out.

Understand the informal channels

Working level connections are built at all levels by people seeking out and collaborating with each other, and in the process, the ‘go-to’ people become known. Such people have influence, by nature of their position, their reputation for getting things done, for their ability to read the signals from above, and for reaching into different parts of the Organization to solve problems. Access to and the flow of information is an important link, supported by an informed perspective.

Develop and manage your reputation

Strive for a reputation as someone who finds solutions to problems, bringing value to the work with integrity and always with the best interests of the Organization in mind. Inform yourself with facts and anticipate needs and questions. Look for common ground and points of agreement and where different approaches can overcome obstacles. Be able to say “I don’t know” and take action to find out; have the courage to say “I was wrong” and correct the situation. Never vent your frustration in email, and otherwise use it carefully.

Foster alliances

You earn trust and respect by helping others, and such alliances provide a network that works like radar to alert you to challenges coming your way, as well as opportunities. Make connecting part of your regular routine. Talk with others about what they are working on, notice what projects have visibility and strong funding, and look for points of engagement where your work intersects with others.

Communicating across ranks and departments/breaking down silos

Read More

Your team members will appreciate an open environment in which they can understand the team's priorities and goals and those of the teams around them. Here are some communication tips for creating this type of environment. 

  • Provide open access to the Department/Office strategic plan (goals and strategies for reaching those goals) and the related plans for each unit or team.
  • Establish a shared point of access to the routine procedures – how activities are conducted and by whom – and keep them up to date.
  • Provide regular updates to your group about progress reports from other teams that you receive.
  • Create a number of different channels for the general information flow as well as the strategic data flow between and among you, team members, and other colleagues. (For example, regular briefings, meeting and decision notes on shared drives, intranet compendiums of documents, message alerts, calendar of meetings team members attend on behalf of the section/unit, etc.)
  • Periodically discuss with your colleagues what you need from other teams and what you can offer them. Invite other teams to do the same in regards to their expectations of your group, and exchange your needs and offers.

Developing a communications strategy

Read More

A template (created by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation) will walk you through developing the elements of a strategic communications plan: determine goal; identify and profile audience; develop messages; select communication channels; choose activities and materials; establish partnerships; implement the plan; and evaluate and make mid-course corrections.  
Go the Template for a Strategic Communications Plan  
Another approach to developing your communication plan including social media is available in an online guide from KnowHow NonProfit, a site for staff at non-profit organizations to learn and share what they have learnt with others.  
Go the site for Developing an Effective Communications Strategy 

Key pages: 
Important documents: