Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Two Meeting Leadership Roles

People want their leaders to keep meetings under control. I'm not suggesting that leaders bully through a tightly controlled agenda. Teams want a meeting to move along at a good pace, the leader helping them get past rat-holes. But, they don't want a meeting to go so fast that their own comments gets ignored. Two important roles emerge from this as you lead meetings.

First, you need to provide focus for the meeting. You need to keep track of the goals and the pacing toward those goals. But, don't be overly wedded to the agenda. Listen to what each person says with an ear toward how it advances both the current topic and the goal of the meeting. Be particularly mindful when someone raises a new topic before the current topic is concluded. Your job is to acknowledge the comment, note that it is off topic, and focus back to the current topic. Drive each topic to completion, with a clear summation of the conclusion, even if the conclusion is that the topic was a rat-hole. There is nothing worse than a meeting full of half finished discussions. What a waste of time.

Your second role is to make sure that off-topic comments don't get dropped on the floor. People raise topics that they think are important. You can't afford to just ignore a comment, but you can't allow the meeting to be distracted by every thought that comes up.

When the distracting idea is central to the meeting goal, capture it, but don't let it derail the current discussion. Come back to it when it fits best in the meeting. You need to manage a dynamic agenda, adjusting the steps of the meeting as important ideas come up. The goal is important not the agenda for reaching it.

When the distracting idea is not central to the meeting goal, acknowledge it and agree to cover it in another forum. It takes a moment of active listening to make sure that you understand the idea well enough to declare it off topic, "That sounds like a topic we should cover in another meeting, or am I missing how that relates to what Anna is talking about?" If you ignore their ideas, people won't feel valued. They will stop feeling comfortable raising important issues.

Sometimes the distracting idea is really just a rat-hole of unimportant detail. As the leader, you play the role of noticing it rather than joining in. You are the person the team relies on to say, "I'm sensing we are in a rat-hole. Is this an important detail to get us to our goal?"

The key idea is that as a leader you are not just a participant. You are not doing your job if you are focused on contributing to the discussion. Yes, this takes away from your time to make your own points. You probably shouldn't be dominating the meeting with your points anyway. You have leading to do.


Randy said...

Really liking your blog, lots of worthwhile insights. Thought I would add two basic items to the leadership role for a meeting ... prepare an agenda before the meeting and distribute minutes soon after the meeting.

These may sound rudimentary, but I've been to way too many meetings where people feel it is ok to just walk in with the "we're here to talk about ..." agenda.

Ultimately these meetings end with everyone feeling they spent too much time on minutia and nobody having a clear understanding of what happened or what's expected next. You can almost guarantee that the topic wasn't closed and you'll end up having another meeting re-hashing the same discussion points!

Which leads to the value of meeting minutes. These, properly executed, help frame the key points, conclusions, action items, and open issues for future investigation and review. This last list is a great place to capture those rat-holes in the making for an individual to follow up on.

Again, great stuff on the blog, I'll be back as often as I can to read more.


Anonymous said...


IT is best not to say much! I did enjoy your comment. Be reading you more or less.


Ken Flowers said...

Great to have you visit. Thanks for the thoughts on agendas. You need a blog, too.