Some people think that plans that are especially well done will somehow execute of their own accord. This is particularly true of meetings. But remember that these are especially sensitive venues, filled with both promise and danger for everyone attending – many will want to subvert it to their own ends. Others may join the struggle. If you don’t take charge, the whole thing may end up in the ditch.
So, take charge, and make no apologies about it. Stick to the program, and allow no diversions. You should always have posted off to the side, but in plain view, the overall meeting agenda or, at least, the current discussion point (best to have both). Use it to discipline the discussion.
If you make this point properly, you will often avoid what could otherwise be significant problems; after all, many destructive dynamics unleashed in meetings aren’t really ill-intended – they are just myopically parochial. So, if you clearly enunciate the agenda, its logic, and the rationale for each point in it, you will put every speaker on the spot: they will be required to establish the logic of their own comments in the context of that of the meeting.
If during an open debating period, for example, you are nevertheless confronted with efforts to prolong a point, insert a discussion item that you suspect is relevant only to the speaker’s interests, or even to re-frame the entire logic of the meeting, there are two key things you can do:
- Divert it. Note the importance of the topic, but suggest that perhaps the current venue isn’t adequate to the examination it deserves. Inform the speaker that you are going to note the key elements of the subject, and will speak with him or her afterward to consider the best way to advance it. At that time, suggest that the speaker set up his or her own meeting on that topic.
- Parallel track it. Some topics brought up may indeed be relevant, but not substantially so – it may be difficult for the speaker to acknowledge the tangential nature of his or her point, or, indeed, it may be difficult for you to grasp its genuinely essential role in your own ultimate agenda. In such an event, ask that person, on the spot, to establish a subcommittee or separate group of experts to examine the issue and elaborate it for its proper incorporation into the main project.
However, make sure you aren’t jumping the gun. Give the speaker time to elaborate his or her point, and to justify its relevance to the meeting. Just don’t give her or him unlimited time to do so, and don’t relinquish your position as arbiter of what is or is not relevant.
Additionally, as you move from one phase to another of your meeting, take a moment to summarize what the participants have accomplished in the previous one, and how that sets the stage for what it is hoped will be accomplished in the next. This will help keep everyone focused on the agenda, and on how they can contribute to it. Remember, that is how you establish a center of gravity that keeps everyone mindful of how to find their place in orbit around it, and thus avoid the centrifugal forces that are so often unleashed in the presence of a control vacuum.
A key to controlling your meeting is to bear in mind what will result from it; what will happen afterward because of what occurs during it. Bear that always in mind, yourself, and keep it in the conscious background of the open discussion phases of your meeting for the benefit of your participants.
But don’t do that only during the meeting. More on that, tomorrow.
Be sure not to miss any of the posts in this series!
- Collaboration jams
- The swaying sword of Damocles
- Smoke-filled rooms
- Meetings – what are they all about?
- How about we get together sometime?
- Can we fit this in somewhere?
- Making your meeting
- Managing your meeting
- Are you sure we were at the same meeting?
Today’s tip: Stop by to see Jamie Notter‘s assessment of a recent academic piece on the decision-making process. The academic article has its antecedents in so-called complexity science, which itself originates in quantum-physics. This is an intriguing topic, and one that many management thinkers have jumped on. Unfortunately, they have typically done so prematurely and with unwarranted enthusiasm and confidence in the academic work itself, and in its applicability to management. We will be discussing this here soon. In the meanwhile, please see Jamie’s essay; he has insightfully extracted an important point from the article, and an important lesson suggested by it.
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