Meeting Facilitation: To Meet or Not To Meet

Posted on | August 19, 2009 | No Comments

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A complaint I hear often, as I am sure you do, is that there are too many meetings. People feel overwhelmed by number of meetings they attend to say nothing of attending meetings that have no real outcomes. It almost feels like a constant refrain. Here’s an example of how to handle some of these demands.

An executive in a high-profile company asked me to come in and meet with her about the possibility of my coaching her. This executive is quite successful in her own right and is perceived in her profession as a leader. In our initial meeting, she explained quite firmly that she needed me to teach her how to be a strategic thinker and how to evaluate business deals. “Why?” I asked. She said she had been called into several meetings with the president of the company and the head of business ventures to meet with the heads of other companies to discuss the possibility of partnering. She explained that she has no idea how to evaluate a business deal or how to assess whether another company should become a partner. She further explained that she is results oriented and didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. She felt it was imperative that she learn these skills in order to make substantive contribution to these meetings.

In truth, this was not a woman to be trifled with and she was quite clear she had a task for me. I assured her that we could certainly develop a plan for her to acquire those skills and that I was happy to help but at the risk of seeming to non responsive or wasting her time, I persisted in my line of questioning. What are the purpose of those meetings? Who invites her? What are their expectations of her? What do they ask her to do in the meetings? Her answers were all fairly vague and reflected her assumptions about what they wanted. I could see she was getting frustrated.

She wanted me to give her the information!! Finally, I asked her if she had ever asked them why they are inviting you. She said she hadn’t. My response was: “Before we proceed with this engagement, which could be time consuming and costly, I want you to ask either the president or the head of business development why they are including you. Speak to which ever one of them you are most comfortable asking.” We agreed to meet the following week.

I, of course, sensing this woman’s urgency did all my due diligence and came in armed with books, reference material, ready to teach. My client entered to room and sat down unusually quiet and said, “I am eye candy.” She went on to explain that she had done as I asked and inquired about her role in these meetings. She was told that she is invited because people are impressed by the opportunity to meet her. They wanted her to be herself. She was surprised, maybe a bit irked, but mostly relieved. She could go back to her real work.

The lesson here for all of us is to know why we are attending meetings and why we are inviting others. Every meeting should have a purpose and each person in attendance should know why they are there and what they are expected to contribute. If you don’t have the answers to those questions, get them and if there is not a good business imperative to be there, you should be making a decision to use your time in a better way.

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