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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.

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Julie Meeks - Reply

All these pointers to improve meeting efficiency: sharing agendas and objective in advance; setting a time frame for the meeting and scheduling each agenda item, are really critical in keeping meetings manageable.  We must do this routinely as meeting leaders, and hold others to this as well when we are not the leaders.  Unfortunately, there are meeting leaders who are unable or unwilling to follow the outlines even if they have set them.  Another problem is the reluctance to limit what people are saying, even if they are repeating themselves, or repeating what others have said.  We are steeped in politeness, and feel to interrupt might be seen as rude. 

It is really disheartening to hear the same people who are unable to give their points in a concise form, then complaining about long meetings!

I look forward to more ideas on how to improve.the efficiency of meetings.  I am open to trying them all!

Lois Parkes

Thanks for your feedback, Julie. I think the trick is to aim to have the conversation and the standards set for the meeting before the meeting, and to stick to those standards. I believe we treat people how to treat us. Also there is a very great chance that most of the persons in the meeting would LOVE to have shorter and more productive meetings, and will support

Annette - Reply

This approach is very useful and has worked for me. Having the agenda in advance, allows one to know exactly what is required of them and prepare to meaningfully contribute to the meeting. Developing a time-based agenda when you are planning a meeting helps to remove the awkwardness of others asking about time for each agenda item. When we know what we want from meetings planned by others, it helps us to plan better for those we manage.

Meetings do take up quite a bit of our weekly calendars. The planned ones, as well as the impromptu ones and not to mention the ones someone forgot to send the notice for. The follow up from these meetings can further soak up more of our times. 

My suggestion re follow up from meetings-unless it is a confidential meeting, I try not to go alone for a few reasons. It is important that you get your team involved as far possible - take a suitable Colleague along. For the purpose of continuity and where urgent follow up is needed and you become unavailable- it helps. 

Meetings are unavoidable, but we can make them manageable, meaningful and I dare say exciting.

Lois Parkes

I love your response. Thanks for the feedback

Wayne - Reply

I accept the points put forward which are very useful and practical.  Another method I find useful is what I call intelligent intervention. This is simply intervening to refocus or redirect a discussion to the pertinent issue at hand. Thus minimising non-essential contributions.  This can be achieved by saying  " the point you raised is interesting and the approach being contemplated requires...." This can be utilised by the leader of the meeting or an attendee who is conscious about efficiency and effectiveness.

Coleen White - Reply

I like the fact that this article focused on how a participant can help to manage a meeting and gave very useful tips.

Lois Parkes

Dear Coleen:

Glad you found the tips useful. Thanks for your feedback

Shirley Weekes - Reply

  What insights am i getting in relation to influencing the running of meetings that i do not lead?

 I do believe that the the points given determines how one can be a good manger or leader in the proper running of meetings.  We must be mindful that even though we are not the ones leading the meeting we are still part of that meeting.  Hence, every effort must be made to ensure that the meeting is being properly orgainsed and managed effectivley.  It will be a waste of my time to go to a meeting that is not properly organised when i could have an input before hand to enhance it.  Many times we attend meetings that are poorly organised and we grumble and complain. When we could have put measures in place such as the points given above to enhance the meeting. I must also interject - we must be careful however, on our apporaoch when we are providing assistance in how these meetings must be managed.  For it must not be looked as if we want to take over the running of the meeting and secondly, we must not come across as if the person is not capable/competent in the planning and running of the meeting.

 

What questions do i still have in relation to influencing the running of meetings that i do not lead?

 One question that i would still have is - would the meeting still take the format as outlined and planned. I would be relying on the person leading to follow through with the format. Many times things are put on paper but when the times comes it would be how the person lead or manage the meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

Derona - Reply

1.  What insights i get in relation to influencing the running of meetings that i do not lead.

From the steps presented it clearly indicates that even though you are not the leader of a meeting you do have a level of control.  Indicating to the leader diplomatically the time you have available will depict the duration of the meeting as the leader will undoubtedly center the meeting around the time you have available, which proves that your contribution is indeed  invaluable.  Having an agenda prior to the commencement of the meeting, will allow you to efficiently prepare for any unforeseen matters arising from the meeting that you would not be able to amicably address in an impromptu setting.  In addition being aware of the objective of the meeting will dictate your level of contribution and determines whether the meeting warrants your presence, or a representative.

 

2.  What questions do i still have in relation to influencing the runnings of meetings that I do not lead

What if the person leading the meeting is not receptive to change and have the mentality of supremacy, how would i be able to influence a meeting that this kind of individual leads?

 

 

Meridith Lynch - Reply

1.  What insights I am getting in influienceing

what i am getting is that sometimes there is a clear agenda or timeframe given for meetings, but this is seldom not adhered too, the agenda may not be completed int eh one sitting, or the time scehduled goes over due to persons taking the time to stress and go away from the scheduled topic.

 To crave influence we can suggest that persons be given a specific time in which to speak and that the questions or comments be written and asked at the time alloted.

based on this approach that would determine if you are the person for that particular meeting or you can send someone else

2.  question:  would the agenda by adhered too and managed.

Lois Parkes

Dear Meredith: Thanks for your response. It is key to have the courage to put forward your suggestions, as the alternative is to just suffer in silence.

Raymond Poyser - Reply

I strongly believe that the pointers given in how to influence meetings one does not lead are very good. While taking the initiative to ask about the meeting in terms of its expected duration and objectives may come across as presumptuous, it may very well point the organizer to some ways to manage meetings better, which is changing the general practice. This will have a greater impact on participants who will not see themselves wasting time attending some of these meetings. Having prior knowledge of the agenda and meeting objectives can help to determine the right persons attend and also having the right information present for discussion and input. In addition, it helps persons to prepare better for the meetings which sometimes is a big killer when preparation is lacking. It clearly shows and discourages participants which is one reason they believe their time is being wasted.

I believe that with tact and diplomacy the points can be put across subtly so that the meetings can be improved and managed better. I also gained insight that it takes an open-minded and strategic organizer to accept the cues/ideas from the questions asked or concerns raised and then apply them that will change the meeting patterns for the better.

After asking or raising those questions/concerns I would inquire about the meeting format as this can also cause persons to become bored and cause the meeting to feel monotonous especially if it is a regularly held meeting and the same format is utilized all the time.

Overall, I agree with the tips and will be using them in future.

 

Lois Parkes

Thanks for your response, Raymond. I totally agree with your suggestions around tact and diplomacy. It is not what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference

Alton McPherson - Reply

  • What insights am I getting in relation to influencing the running of meetings that I do not lead?

Insights received are that it seems to be a good idea to have prior knowledge of the agenda, objectives and expected outcomes of the meeting. Though knowledge of these elements are key to having productive meetings, not everyone appreciates when they are requested. Another insight is the contrary, if the facilitator of the meeting does not understand the need to keep a meeting focussed and on point, he/she will find the type of questioning suggested as very offensive. 

  • What questions do I still have in relation to influencing the running of meetings that I do not lead?

One question I still have is, how do i get around meeting facilitators who are members of  senior management and finds these questions unnecessary? My strategy has been to use smart intervention by asking directed questions in an effort to keep the meeting focused.

Lois Parkes

Dear Alton: Thanks for your comments, and particularly your question and suggested response

Shirlian Queeley - Reply

What insights am I getting in relation to influencing the running of meetings that I do not lead? 

 
I can play an important role in influencing meetings that I do not lead on by ensuring these meetings are properly managed and scheduled. This involves speaking with the meeting organizer to determine the duration of the meeting and articulate politely how much time I’m willing to commit to the meeting. I would also seek to clarify from the individual the meeting’s purpose and desired outcomes, ensure that there’s a well-organized and well-designed agenda in advance starting with an ice breaker, find out if the agenda was communicated with those who will be attending the meeting so as to set clear expectations and also discuss a time and place most convenient for the hosting meeting.
 
What questions do I still have in relation to influencing the running of meetings that I do not lead?
 
How to ensure individuals stick to the agenda and don’t go off on a tangent because of personal agendas.


Lois Parkes

Dear Shirlian: Thanks for your response. You raise an interesting question. Let's discuss further in class

Carol Barrow - Reply

The article highlights some very important and pressing points in relation to the influencing of meetings and that I as a stakeholder have the power to influence the direction, the planning and the outcome of the meetings especially given the fact that studies show that 40-50% of my working time can be spent in meetings. When it can be seen that persons really lack training in planning for and the execution of meetings my input would be need more.

Questions

How can I seek influence the planning/execution of the meeting without seeming as though I want to take over?

How can I influence persons to do the same?

What if the person/s organising are very senior to me?

How can I prove that training is necessary in how to lead/conduct meetings is a very necessary component of the a meetings sucess.

Lois Parkes

Dear Carol: Thanks for your response, and the questions especially. There is no straightforward response to these questions, but why not start a conversation about how meetings are going. There is always a strong possibility that other meeting participants are seeing the same challenges that you are seeing.