Implementing Structure in Family Councils: Agendas and Assigned Roles

Written by Cathleen Edwards, FCO Education Manager

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Family Council members often find themselves with limited time due to the various responsibilities they hold while tending to the needs of their loved ones in long-term care. When Family Councils do meet collectively, it’s important that they have productive discussions about issues in the long-term care sector, Council activities, and family concerns. With that being said, there is definitely no time to spare during meetings! Luckily agendas and assigned roles during a meeting are strategies that a Family Council may use to help them get things done during a meeting.

What is an Agenda?

Agendas are documents shared in advance of a meeting. The purpose of the agenda is to provide a list of topics that will be discussed during a meeting. This information gives everyone an idea about the structure, including the order that topics will be discussed in the meeting. The topics included on the agenda are shaped by the goal of the meeting. Councils can dedicate time in a meeting to re-visit “old business” from previous meetings, as well as to discuss “new business”. When planning the agenda, to continue the momentum until the next meeting it is best to try to end the meeting on a positive note. If there are resources with specific information that participants are expected to read in advance of a meeting, these should be shared in advance.

Tips for Creating a Meeting Agenda:

  1. Seek input from all Family Council Members
  2. Clarify the purpose of the discussion
  3. Allocate a realistic time frame for discussion
  4. Establish a process to address all items on the agenda
  5. State who is responsible to lead discussion of agenda items
  6. Identify the next steps

Seek input from all Council Members-

When planning for a meeting, opportunities to seek input from council members helps to maximize attendance and participation during meetings. Those who are involved in planning the meeting will ask all council members for their ideas. When they suggest a topic to discuss, it is also important to ask them to explain why they feel it’s an important topic to discuss as a Council. When the item is not added to the meeting agenda, make sure that someone follows up with the Council member to explain why the item was not added to the agenda.

Clarify the purpose of discussion-

There are many different reasons to include a topic on the meeting agenda. Attendees will be unfocused when they aren’t sure what they are expected to do with the information provided to them. Are they expected to listen? Do you want to get their input? Are they expected to take an active role in making the decision? When their role is unclear, you risk the potential of frustration, which leads to loss of interest in the meeting. If you are providing an update on action items, then provide any materials that members are expected to read in advance and dedicate time in the meeting to answer their questions. Remind those attending the meeting about the specific approach to decision making for your Council. This can be done by reviewing or referring to your Family Council’s Terms of Reference.

Allocate realistic time for discussion-

When planning an agenda, do the math in advance of the meeting. Think about the length of the meeting, then look at the topics listed on the agenda that need to be discussed as a group during the meeting. How much time will be needed to introduce the topic, answer questions, discuss different perspectives, engage in problem-solving and arrive at a solution? Believe it or not, people often underestimate how much time is needed to discuss a topic. Ideally each Council member or guest should have the chance to speak, before holding a vote. The intention of limiting the time for discussion is not intended to cut people off, but rather to keep the discussion focused and productive. With time, the ability to gage estimated time allotment needed for discussion improves.

Establish a process to address all items on the agenda-

As a council, you will need to decide how you will make decisions as a group. The specific process for making decisions draws on what you stated in your Council’s Terms of Reference. Making sure that every member of the Council understands the process used when making decisions (i.e. vote, consensus) plays a part in effective meetings. In this way, there is more time available to discuss the topic and less time wasted on explaining the process used for making decisions.

State who is responsible for leading the discussion-

While council meetings are led by the chair/president, there are other members or staff who may lead the discussion for a specific item on the agenda. During the discussion for an agenda item, they provide any background information (i.e. context, data) to help support the discussion. The name of the person who is responsible for leading this discussion will be listed on the agenda next to their topic.

Identify the next steps-

After each topic is discussed and the Family Council has arrived at a decision, you will need to set aside a few minutes to discuss your next steps. One place to start is by listing the action items and reviewing who is responsible to address them before your next meeting. This information will help when planning the agenda for the next council meeting.

Assign roles-

Another strategy to support effective Family Council meetings is to assign roles. This practice helps to keep meetings moving forward and productive. Common roles include that of the meeting facilitator, the time keeper, the mood-minder, the recorder, and meeting participant. Each council will use their Leadership Model to help them assign each role.

Meeting Facilitator-

Also known as the Chair/President, the facilitator makes sure that everyone knows the date, time and place of the next meeting. They will also play a part in creating the meeting agenda and in leading the overall discussion for each agenda item. They will carefully monitor the discussion to make sure it stays on topic and will oversee the process of making decisions. Individuals who lead the meeting also play an important role in creating and maintaining a positive atmosphere so Council members are comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Time Keeper-

Council members can take turns with this role. Individuals who take on this role during a meeting will enforce time limits for each topic on the agenda. They will also provide reminder when the allocated time for a topic is running out. This reminder can be a sign or gesture to let the meeting facilitator know to start wrapping up the discussion. This reminder could also be a verbal cue where they state “five minute warning” to let the group know that they need to make a decision. It can also be a fun alarm to alert each participant they have one minute of time left for the agenda item.


Also known as the Secretary, this role can be assigned to one person or can be shared. Before the meeting begins, they will make sure that all Council members and invited guests have a copy of the agenda. They will make sure that the meeting minutes are written or typed. They will ensure the meeting minutes provide an accurate summary of the discussion for each topic during the meeting. They will also keep a record of how decisions are made during a meeting. This information will be used to help inform the Council when making similar decisions in the future.

Mood Minder-

This role is another one that can be shared by council members. Individuals who take on this role will monitor the verbal and non-verbal language during the meeting. They will ask for clarification when they note that people are confused and will suggest a break when they note growing tensions before allowing the discussion on a topic to resume.

Meeting Participant-

The role of meeting participant is assigned to anyone who attends a Family Council meeting who is not assigned to another role. Staff assistants and invited guests are not considered to be a meeting participant, unless they are responsible to lead the discussion for a specific item on the agenda. As a participant, Council members are expected to read all materials shared with them in advance of a meeting. They will need to understand the agenda and purpose of the meeting. They will be asked to contribute their thoughts and ideas to the discussion for each agenda item. As a participant they play a part in setting the tone of the atmosphere through their verbal and non-verbal communication. This includes being clear and concise when it is their turn to speak. They will also need to do their best not to interrupt others when they are speaking.

So you see, there are many steps involved when implementing structure into Family Councils. Family Councils are unique which means agendas and the assignment of roles will often look different for each. It is important that each Council determine what is best for them collectively to further the cultivation of their group as an effective entity. Starting up and adapting to a structure will take time but it will be worth the work!

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