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Meeting Management when you are not the Meeting Lead

July 01 2019 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, CLP's Regional Project Manager

As one gets promoted into the managerial and senior executive ranks, more and more time is spent participating in meetings; some studies estimate 40% - 50% of one’s time. This represents a sizeable chunk of productive time, which too often is not productively spent. For many leaders, the challenge is not so much with the meetings that they have lead responsibility for scheduling and managing. The challenge they face is with meetings with other stakeholders, both within their organization or very often from outside of their immediate organizational environment. These kinds of meetings emanate from the increasing need for collaboration with different partners, clients, and customers, a necessity for inclusive approaches in a very inter-connected and complex world.

Notwithstanding the need to participate in such meetings, these can be a source of time wasting for busy executives. All too often, these meetings are much longer than necessary, and poorly managed, leaving one dreaming of a way of escape. However, escaping these meetings all together is not necessarily a solution that is available or politically feasible. So, what can you do? One approach could be to try to influence how these meetings are managed. Below are some possible steps that one could take:

  • Determine how much time you can commit to the meeting and communicate same: Ask the meeting organizer/lead what is the expected length of the meeting and indicate how much time you are able to commit to the meeting. Done with diplomacy and tact, this can allow you to make your input to the meeting within the timeframe you’ve provided.
  • Ask for an agenda in advance: In addition to asking about the expected length of the meeting, getting an agenda in advance can allow you to determine exactly what input is required from you, and at what point in the meeting. If the agenda does not allocate time for each agenda item, one could go even further to ask what is the expected time to be spent on each agenda item. This might appear somewhat ‘nitpicky’; however the majority of persons organizing meetings have little or no training on how to do so in a strategic and efficient way, and are simply following poor meeting patterns learnt from examples set by previous supervisors. By asking pointed questions about the management of the meeting, it can allow the meeting organisers to start to think deliberately about how they manage their meetings.
  • Clarify meeting objectives: One can also ask what are the meeting objectives or the expected outcomes for the meeting. Again, it can seem presumptuous to ask. However, this can allow the meeting organizer to focus on the ‘why’ of the meeting. Also, having the opportunity to review the objectives, one might even recognize that the input required might not need your presence but information that can be submitted via e-mail for example.

Ultimately, one has to recognize one’s time as a limited resource that has to be utilized strategically. It requires the setting of appropriate boundaries, and having the courage and confidence to have the conversations to ensure that boundaries are recognized and respected. You might even be pleasantly surprised how the other party might be having the same challenge, and is welcoming of an opportunity to explore how to better manage their meetings and limited time.