Selected Basic Meeting Problems for Line Managers and Supervisors
Some basic meeting problems tend to impact the outcome of staff meetings in organizations. Line managers and supervisors, as a part of the organizations’ leadership team, need to gain an understanding of those basic problems. To help you improve your staff meeting outcomes, I chose to discuss specially selected basic meeting problems because it is impossible to provide you an exhaustive list of all meeting problems in this one article. These specially selected basic meeting problems are what I call preconceive solutions, participants’ hegemony and issue amplification.
It is not unusual for participants to arrive at meetings with preconceive solutions for agenda items. There is nothing wrong with this approach except if the preconceived solutions were based on misconceptions of a core problem. There are few reasons for problem misconceptions that lead to wrongful preconceive solutions. Misconceptions tend to come from participants’ inability to identify the core problem, participants’ biases against the agenda items, and self interest deviating from organizational health.
If you have ever conducted a meeting where you are constantly interrupted by individuals that are: overly outspoken, prevent others to give their opinions because these individuals tend to dominate the conversations, make suggestions that is unrelated to your meeting agenda, you are a victim of what I call the “participants hegemony.” It is a domination of your meeting that result in your inability to stay focus on your agenda items. Hegemony is a domination power. It is the power of a select group to dominate others. Here is an example of the participants hegemony during a sales meeting scheduled to discuss the introduction of a company’s new product:
Sales Manager: We need to target our key distributors and help them with their marketing effort.
Participant #1: I think we should also discuss our bonus plan.
Participant #2: I didn’t receive my last quarter’s bonus.
Participant #3: I received my bonus pay for last quarter but it was shorter than I expected.
Sales Manager: All of you have worked very hard to increase our sales last quarter. I will speak to the accounting manager to resolve your concerns to ensure that it never happen again.
Participant #3 (Again). “Welcome to the Wood Distributing Company.” Promises don’t mean anything here. Others laughed in agreement.
Notice that none of these participants’ discussion has anything to do with the purpose of conducting the sales meeting. Remember that the manager’s purpose for conducting the meeting was to discuss how to target the company’s key distributors, in introducing the new product, and to help the distributors with marketing efforts to ensure successful distribution of the product. This type of participants’ hegemony can negatively impact the outcome of your meeting and also frustrates you because you have not achieved the purpose of your meeting.
Issue amplification is a basic meeting problem that involves your overview of the magnitude of the purpose of the meeting. I use the word “amplification” because the problem only affects a segment of your organization, but you perceive it as involving your entire organization. It is a generation approach used to invite participants, unrelated to the issue, to meetings. For example, when you call a general meeting, in which you request that all division supervisors attend to discuss an issue involving only the shipping and receiving department, or department chairs for issues involving only special education department (in the case of schools), accounting supervisors, and security supervisors, you are using a generation approach resulting from your issue amplification because invited participants are not affiliated with the specific departments involved.
The negative impact of your decision to invite all supervisors is that participants feel disconnect to the problem and are unable to actively issue a suggestion or recommendation to resolve the problem. You also pulled them away from the duties and their department where they could be more effective. In other words, you are wasting your human capital by removing them from when they are most likely needed to participate in your meeting.
3—Ways for Line Managers and Supervisors to Avoid these Basic Meeting Problems
Clarify the Problem
You probably prepared the agenda when you designed the meeting because you have a greater overview of the problem. To avoid a wrongful or misaligned preconceive solution to the problem, you must clarify the issue. In other words, make it your duty to identify the issue when you design your agenda. I also recommend that you follow up with a reminder notice, to all invitees, a day before the meeting.
There is a very select group of people in every meeting that will try to dominate your meeting using what I call “participants’ hegemony.” The key to mitigate this problem is to set the ground rules at the beginning of your meeting. Rules are vital to help you stay focus in conducting your meeting. You exacerbate your inability to focus, due to participants’ hegemony, when you fail to lay out your rules for conducting your meeting right up front. You must also acknowledge participants unrelated suggestions to your meeting agenda, to avoid arrogance, and move on to your agenda issue. Here is an example of acknowledging participants’ suggestions that have nothing to do with your agenda, you may say, “Joe, if I hear you correctly you are saying that …. Please correct me if I am wrong.” Reinstating what Joe said is a good way to acknowledge him and show that you care. Then suggest that Joe see you after the meeting to continue that discussion. Tell Joe that his suggestions are interesting but that time constraints will not allow you to properly explore his suggestion. You must avoid hegemony at all cost because failure to do so will most likely prevent you to focus on the purpose of your meeting. In other words you allow participants to hijack your topic.
Invite Participants with Relevant Expertise
I do not subscribe to the notion that involving others to discuss issues unrelated to their departments as a viable solution because they lack better understanding of the daily operation of that department. You can only call general meetings when there is a need to share information about your entire organization, or issues that are relevant to all departments within your organization. Specific issues require specific expertise to help with decision making, policy and implementation of ideas. However, when specific departmental problem arises, you should only invite participants with relevant expertise involving that department.
Series two of articles on Meetings – This is the second of a series of articles that I plan to write on meetings in the coming months. This article is about basic meeting problems faced by line managers and supervisors.
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About John Alizor
John O. Alizor, Ph.D., currently runs workshops and seminars on leadership as the founder and president of John Alizor, Ph.D., Leadership Forensics Business Consulting, Inc. He has an extensive background in education administration and business leadership roles including making his first million dollars as the head of a manufacturing company. He is sharing his leadership…