by: Chris Goldsbury
Have you ever been through a meeting where the purpose was unclear, the background was misty, the discussion drifted in confusion, none of the attendees were introduced and one week later a follow-up meeting was scheduled only to repeat the same listless course of direction? “Let’s table this discussion and come back to it next week after we’ve had time to think about it,” the facilitator states emphatically. But when you return the next week everyone has forgotten the topic and since no notes were sent out it becomes a game of he-said-she-said as to what really transpired. The team leaves each subsequent meeting more confused, and lost than the last. Eventually people stop attending, and whatever effort, project or issue was supposed to be addressed is escalated.
A crisis in project leadership often starts with poor meeting facilitation skills. The meeting is a tool. Used well, any individual, irrespective of role, can orchestrate and lead a group of people toward a goal. Used poorly, the meeting becomes a stage to illustrate why you shouldn’t be leading anything. Tough words? Not as tough as the criticism and rumors that will fly behind your back….but yes, I’m not holding any punches back.
There are some great courses on the basics of leading and planning effective meetings…so I won’t address those here. Instead let’s focus on the nuances and politics around the meeting. What are some of the hidden truths?
This Meeting Is a Political Forum – Any meeting issue has it’s supporters, opposition, and the middle ground that has no strong opinion. Making meetings effective means understanding the different positions, both overt and not stated. A group of people meeting together is the kindling for a a political firestorm. To avoid any catastrophe make sure you know the motivations of those involved by seeking out their thoughts and feeling beforehand.
- Everyone Is On Display – A meeting allows us to get a good look at everyone involved in a project or business effort. There’s no hiding behind a phone, email, or instant messaging software. You’re on display. Body language, character, grooming habits, true aspirations and alliances become apparent to everyone. Those in the room will evaluate you by your approach and demeanor…how you conduct yourself and the meeting. A good showing says “Hey this person can handle things well. He/she is headed for bigger things”. A bad showing says “Not sure why this person is in charge of this. Who hired him/her?”
- People Are Rarely Honest Up Front. – Hidden agendas are unsettling to any meeting facilitator, but you have to deal with them. Managing the other angles that come about in a meeting isn’t about negating those platforms. It’s about understanding. Learning the tangential directions each party is coming from and how they relate to your meeting shows that you understand the wider picture and are not so singularly narrow as to think your effort alone is of importance.
- This is My Chance To Make You Look Bad. – As your organizational prowess grows you’ll make enemies. This is a sign that you have some affect on the company you work with. You’re not just a wallflower any longer, people care what you do and say. Unfortunately you can’t avoid your enemies in meetings. They’ll be there and you have to deal with them. Prepare ahead of time for the interaction. Make certain you understand the angle they will take. Just like in a good chess match…the winner has usually thought three or four steps ahead. The usual temptation is is to not invite your rivals, but this shows you can’t handle conflict. By demonstrating your ability to manage the interaction well; you prove your worth even further.
- The Silent One. – People are silent in meetings for many reasons. Some are just shy, but there’s usually one who is purposely being quiet and doesn’t have to say anything. He or she is usually an observer of some sort and may be reporting to someone else who’d like to know what exactly is going on in each meeting. It’s important to draw this person out and understand how they’re reading the meeting. While their involvement may be harmless; it’s important that you take account of their views so as not to run afoul of any outside political interest.
Meetings can be fantastic organizational tools. Running and leading a successful set of meetings gets projects and business efforts going in the right direction, and help form a platform for your career within an organization. Going the extra mile and addressing some of the hidden things I mentioned above, will show that you’re not just good at planning and organizing, but also a budding leader. Navigating the water of organizational influence starts through small forums like your project meetings.
Christopher R Goldsbury is a software development manager and professional with 15 years experience in various flavored technologies as well as experience in production/operations management, project management, enterprise & software architecture, operational risk management, and human motivation. You can read his experiences and ideas at his blog or connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter by following @goldzee.
More by this author:
- The Culture Shock of Transitioning To Agile
- Six Things To Avoid When Reporting Project Status
- That’s Great… But How Does Agile Benefit Our Shareholders?
- This Daily Standup is a Joke
- An Axiom of Project Success