Friday, May 18, 2012

when it needs to be your agenda

Normally, I am not a big fan of talking a lot at meetings that I run.  I believe that a well run meeting is one in which the person who convenes the meeting asks good questions and engages the participants in dialogue and discussion around the topic at hand, hopefully coming to some type of conclusion or decision.

I sat in a meeting yesterday in which the convener of the meeting started talking and went on for about 15 minutes.  At first I became a bit irritated, and then realized that this was an important part of the meeting, in which this person needed to tell us about an exciting event in their life.  As I settled into listening, it became very clear to me that without the leader sharing their story, we could not have settled into the rest of the meeting, so I calmed myself down and enjoyed the story.  Eventually we got back to the agenda and had a very good meeting.  It was at that point that the title of today's blog came to me.

I believe there are times when it needs to be "my agenda."  As I considered this title, I started thinking about other times when the convener/facilitator/leader needs to own the agenda and just talk.  Here is my list as I think about it today:
  • when an important event has occured in one's life...after a long vacation (like a month in Maine), a wonderful concert, a great student event, the birth of a child, a recent wedding or funeral, it might be importnat for you to share your reflections.  First, you need to share your personal excitement so you can focus your energies on the meeting; and second, the people around the table will know a little bit more about you
  • when a value has been's often the elephant in the room about which no one wants to talk.  As the person in charge (and the person charged with creating and upholding the values) it might be time to talk about why the value is in place, how it has been violated, share stories about the power of that value, and begin to hold people accountable to living that value out.  10-15 minutes may not be too long to speak to this point
  • when laying out a vision...whether it is at the beginning of the process where you might be thinking out loud or toward the end of the process where the vision has crystalized, this is a time for the convener to hold the floor for awhile and let people listen. Hhaving your ideas become words is a critical piece in making the vision a reality, and needing to say it over and over in different ways is important at this stage
  • when confessing your faults...whether it is a slip in judgement or a mistake made or something of a grievious nature, this is a time when you speak and allow yourself to let people know that you know you have messed up.  This probably is not a 15 minute monologue, but it takes time for you to be vulnerable and show your willingness to say "I'm sorry."  Be sure to pause at the end and allow those around the table to pronounce forgiveness
  • when critical issues those moments when everything seems to be falling apart, the leader needs to stand up and speak to the team, sometimes without questions being asked.  The more sensitive the issue, the more important it is that you have thought out what you will say and how you will say it.  Sometimes there will be no dialogue due to the personal nature of the issue at hand; at other times, there will be a place for questions and others' best thinking.  Careful explanation with as many details as can be shared are important for the group to hear
The facilitator of the meeting needs to know when these times are going to occur and share that with the group.  Simple phrases such as:
     - I need you all to give me a few minutes to speak to you directly
     - the next few minutes are my time to talk
     - an important event has come up that will take some time for me to explain to all of you
     - I normally don't like to talk for a long time, but the next few minutes are mine to do that
     - I need for all of you indulge me for the next ten minutes while I tell you about...
     - I need you all to listen closely for the next 10 minutes and be ready to ask questions and give me feedback when I am done

My learning for the week is that there are times I need to own the agenda - and that there are times others need to own the agenda.  I think there is a proper way to do that, and I also think that it should not be done too often.  What do you think?


Paul Maassel said...

Seems like these are typically not items to explicitly list on the meeting agenda. Might be interesting to discuss when it is appropriate to make these explicit parts of the meeting planning.

Dina Vendetti said...

Interesting stuff Don. I mostly agree that the person running the meeting should talk the least -- except in those cases you listed. I ran a meeting just this week in which I had to be the chief speaker because I was sharing a brand new idea and giving some background. While I know it was necessary to talk a lot at that meeting, it still felt uncomfortable to me because it violated my normal style. Knowing when and how to handle that kind of uncomfortability is part of leadership...

Don Christian said...

Dina - first of all thanks for reading; second, I miss hanging out with you and John in the office; and third, I agree about the uncomfortableness of it. I find myself in that situation anytime I need to talk for any length of time in a meeting. I need to proabaly just say outloud, "It's uncomfrotable for me to talk on and on like this, but I feel it si important for this issue..."