Organizational systems consultants, like myself, usually have loads of advice for bosses about how to lead meetings.
Meetings fascinate us consultants because that’s where all the action takes place—they are a microcosm of an organization’s culture. You can learn a lot about an organization by paying attention to how the functional groups and work teams meet. You can learn a lot about a leader’s style and beliefs by watching how she runs a meeting.
Volumes have been written for the boss aspiring to lead more productive meetings. Conspicuous by its absence, however, is advice aimed at the meeting participant. In fact, many people who attend meetings think of themselves as members of an audience rather than active participants in a group process. Instead of wondering how best to contribute to a productive meeting, many of us sit in the meeting, look at the meeting leader, and think, “O.K., do the meeting for me. Good Luck. I hope it’s entertaining.”
While a consultant is busy helping the boss become a better meeting leader, here are few simple ways you can become a better meeting participant.
Remember, It’s Not a Show
Meetings happen for a reason and you’ve been invited for a reason. Presumably, something will take place that matters to you and will in some respect alter the way you understand your work. Meeting participants share responsibility for success with meeting leaders. Not to be harsh, but there’s something unethical about physically attending a meeting without actually attending to the meeting.
Know Your Role
Some meetings are about exchanging information; some meetings are about generating ideas; and some meetings are about making decisions and planning. If you’re expected to share responsibility for the success of the meeting, you owe it to yourself and your organization to get clear on your role in the meeting. If you’re being asked to present information, find out what others at the meeting are supposed to do with the information you present. That way, you’ll know how much to say and what aspects of the information to focus on. If you’re being asked to listen to information, find out what you’re meant to do with the information being presented so that you’ll know how to listen. Listening to a presentation on the new marketing plan so that you can tell your clients about an upcoming discount is different than listening so that you can plan for inventory changes. Most importantly, if you are being asked to help reach a decision or build a plan, find out if you’re being asked for your input, if you’re one of the decision makers in a consensus process, or if you’re being informed of a decision that has already been made and you’re there to figure out how to implement the decision. Before the meeting gets going ask yourself, “How will this decision be made?”
Know When the Meeting’s Over
A lot of people I talk to say, “You know the meeting is over when you’re late for the next meeting.” We mostly think about the conclusion of a meeting in the context of start times and end times. You can’t share responsibility for the success of a meeting if you don’t have a way to think about what it means. If that’s the case, you can’t really say that a meeting was successful. A successful meeting, according to Interaction Associates, meets participants’ needs for results satisfaction (we achieved the goals of the meeting), process satisfaction (we had efficient, clear interactions), and relationship satisfaction (we established trust, rapport and openness).
To sum up, here are three questions you can ask yourself in order to share responsibility for the success of your next meeting:
1. What’s expected of me?
2. What will we have at the end of the meeting that we don’t have now? and
3. What worked about our results, our process, and our relationship and what can we improve for next time?
If we consultants can count on you, the meeting participant, to start asking these questions when you’re invited to a meeting, there’s a much better chance that when your boss finishes her training program, she’ll actually put some of what she learned to good use.