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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