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Running a Successful Meeting

December 7, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Projects / Meetings

Running a Successful Meeting

Meetings are sometimes a “necessary evil” in organizational life but if well run can be a very useful way to get several people “on the same page” all at once. However, the key words here are “if well run”. Unfortunately, many meetings are badly organized, run and controlled, which often leads to frustration, not only for the meeting coordinator but many of the attendees also. The best approach therefore is for a meeting convener to “take charge” of the meeting at the earliest opportunity and to “orchestrate” the entire meeting event.

Assuming that a meeting has been properly organized ahead of time, with a clear start and finish time, an agenda (however short) and the right decision-makers (or their delegated person) at the table, the main task in running a successful meeting lies with the meeting convener, chairperson or facilitator (and these will usually be the same person). An experienced meeting facilitator will have often had the opportunity to observe the behavior of every individual at a meeting table. In so doing, it will be readily realized that people behave in very different ways in meetings. Some people start to behave in quite a particular way right from the outset by sitting in the most central seat in the room, or closest to the chairperson (or even in the ‘darkest’ or most invisible corner) or may speak first of most or even last and least. Some people are focused on the task at hand and others are distracted or just “doodling”. In other words, several meeting ‘characters’ will emerge. A few of these characters are shown in the table below:

The Meeting Coordinator:   Sometimes the chairperson and sometimes not, this person likes toassume a friendly co-ordination role, drawing the input of others and at least trying to keep to the agenda. This can be useful to keep on track but can be over-controlling at times (especially when informally done).
The Meeting Extrovert:   Outspoken and prone to make long speeches and often interrupt others-the extrovert is hard to ignore and keep quiet. The meeting facilitator needs them to speak up but also to let others make their contribution.
The Meeting Introvert:   Often almost completely invisible or struggling to make even a limited contribution despite often being able to listen well to the debate. The meeting facilitator needs to silence the extravert and draw these people in.
The Meeting Note-taker:   The note-taker will often take copious notes even when not specifically asked but will also watch for and record underlying messages and communications. This is a useful person to which to refer for discussion threads and to help everyone know what decisions have been made.
The Lateral Thinker:   The lateral thinker will put up ideas and often make creative suggestions or even link unusual issues to reach potentially novel solutions. This can help a meeting get out of a discussion rut but the meeting facilitator needs to ensure that the discussions don’t go overtime or too far of the agenda.
The Time-checker: Deadline driven and control oriented, the time checker looks to keep the meeting absolutely on track. This frees up the meeting facilitator but he or she will still need to override some discussion time limits on occasions.

Of the above characters, all of which may appear, whether appointed to this role or not, the extrovert is potentially by far the most difficult to manage well in a meeting. If the extrovert is allowed to dominate, other attendees will quickly become frustrated and bored and will feel under valued. The meeting facilitator therefore needs to be firm but fair in letting the extroverts make their contribution but preventing them from dominating proceedings. This is particularly the case where extroverts become overly assertive or even aggressive about their own suggestions and solutions offered or start to ‘rail-road’ other meeting attendees.

Because people will often exhibit quite different behavior in ‘group dynamic’ situations (where status, power and one-upmanship are often sought) some individuals may seek to ‘score points’ off one another (in both subtle and not so subtle way) or become personal in their comments in a meeting setting. Such behavior is never appropriate in a meeting forum and attendees should therefore be encouraged to focus on the issues and the agenda items, not the people in the meeting – i.e. ‘play the ball and not the person’ in the sporting analogy. The best way to achieve this goal is to recognize all of the characters at any given meeting and bring them in when the discussions need redirecting.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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