If you’re in the business world, you’ve probably been in your fair share of meetings. Different people coming together to share ideas is at the heart of any successful organisation. 

You probably have a vague idea of the difference between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’. But what do these terms mean in practice?  

Informal Meetings

There are many different forms an informal meeting can take. Sometimes, they are not even planned. There are only a few rules when it comes to informal meetings. These are rules that you should have around the office anyway, like respect and consideration. In terms of how an informal meeting should take place, there is little regulation.

Team members attending an informal meeting do not have specific roles (aside from their job title). There does not need to be a Chairman present at an informal meeting. It might be helpful to have someone in charge, but this will be a temporary choice. There is no official head of the meeting.

Informal meetings can take place anywhere. As they are not arranged in advance, an informal meeting might evolve from a quick chat between team members. Some teams might even hold informal meetings in the pub! It all depends on what works for you.

If it is helpful to your organisation, informal meetings can have more formal aspects like an agenda or meeting minutes. This can help make sure things are achieved and time is not wasted. However, these extras are not always necessary. Some informal meetings can be a casual chat with no records made.

Whatever sector you work in, informal meetings can help your business. They provide an opportunity to solve problems and share ideas. Still, there are limits to what informal meetings can achieve. Sometimes, you will need to have a more formal Board meeting.

Formal Meetings

A formal meeting is an altogether more organised affair. They are a chance for the top members of your team to get together and implement action. It’s not always safe to make important decisions about the future of your company from a hallway! A formal meeting ensures that you can do what’s best for the company, without distractions.

Unlike informal meetings, formal meetings have more rules. They will follow a clear order that is planned in advance. They are also regulated by the law. In the UK, this is mostly covered by the Companies Act of 2006. As a result, formal meetings support your company in remaining legally compliant. Your stakeholders may also expect a certain level of professionalism.

The difference between formal meetings and informal meetings starts before the meeting itself. Formal meetings are organised to a high degree. They are pre-scheduled - sometimes up to a year ahead! The agenda is set in high detail, including space for specific votes and resolutions. This means you should distribute relevant documents so members have time to prepare.

When planning the order of their formal meetings, some organisations like to follow a template like Robert’s Rules. No matter how you organise your formal meetings, you should make sure they are efficient and comprehensive. Formal meetings should flow seamlessly. When you want to achieve a specific purpose, there is no time to waste. 

Everyone at a formal meeting is there for a reason. They should have clearly defined roles (such as the Chairman and the General Secretary), and should understand their place. No one should turn up to a formal meeting ‘by accident’! Otherwise, you risk the efficiency and security of your decision-making process.

With formal meetings, there is a higher level of accountability. They are designed for action, and so it is important that nothing happens without being recorded. Meeting minutes are crucial in formal meetings. In fact, in the UK this is a legal requirement in the Companies Act. Make sure you complete this step professionally.

This higher level of accountability is a key advantage over informal meetings. Nothing can be agreed without note. There is no confusion over who brought up an idea and who is in charge of implementing it. While a vote in an informal meeting can be a show of hands, in a formal meeting the responses should be tracked. This will help you put together a comprehensive audit trail.

In line with this, a formal Board meeting will also require a higher level of security. As you are dealing with confidential Board documents, you cannot afford to leave things to chance. Make sure your documents are protected at all times. You don’t want them falling into the wrong hands!

How can Convene support your formal meetings?

Convene is a purpose-built solution for improving your formal meetings. From organising an agenda to creating comprehensive meeting minutes, our Board portal is designed to support the whole administrative process. With fully GDPR compliant software and a flawless reputation, we understand what it takes to run a successful formal meeting. Read our customer success stories or contact us today to book a free trial!

Lucy Palmer

Written by Lucy Palmer

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