Jack struggled with his frustration — another meeting totally out of control. Despite his repeated, insistent requests, the sidebar conversations wouldn't stop, and now they involved more than the usual suspects. He wondered why he had ever accepted this job.
Most of us address this problem by working on our skills. That's always helpful, but we rarely consider Context — the setting in which we hold the meeting. Sometimes Context is the key.
Perhaps you recall that in the Viet Nam peace negotiations, the negotiators first spent months negotiating the shape of the table. Many observers in the U.S. considered this a sign of deadlock, but historians now agree that the issue was politically important. So it is in working environments. The shape of the table, and our positions around it, strongly influence the flow of the meeting.
The traditional configuration is a long rectangle, with the meeting leader at the head. Though there are exceptions, proximity to the leader indicates status. Since this configuration has problems, avoid it. Choose the right room for the job, and choose a room that's flexible enough to meet your needs. Here are some factors to consider.
For small meetings use a room with a round table. This facilitates frequent and spontaneous pairwise exchanges. The wrong shape can keep some people out of the action.
For larger meetings, the meeting leader should avoid sitting at one end. Instead, sit in the middle of one side. The ends are too far from each other, which makes facilitating the meeting difficult. When you sit at the middle of one side, you have good access to all participants, and they have good access to you.
For any size meeting, a long, extremely narrow table makes it difficult for people at opposite ends to participate. Multiple foci of conversation can develop more easily, spinning the meeting out of control.
is the keySome meetings require multiple foci, if there are breakout sessions. For such meetings, you might not be able to meet in one room, but if you can, choose one that supports your breakout pattern — one that has separate tables. Push them together for the single-focus portion of the meeting, and pull them apart for breakouts. After a breakout ends, move the furniture back to a single-focus configuration. This draws a strong boundary between the single-focus and multiple-focus portions of the meeting.
Other meetings — brainstorms, for example — need no table. Choose a room without a table, or one with a table you can move to the side.
Whatever your needs, as the meeting planner, you have an advantage over the Viet Nam peace negotiators. You can decide what you want — you needn't spend three months negotiating the shape of the table. But if you do have to negotiate it, choose a room with the right table for the job. Top Next Issue
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenzrtHJkRByrFSgZfNner@ChacEfNRGHvApzhxIdskoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Most of us get too much email. Some is spam, but even if we figured out how to eliminate spam, most
would still agree that we get too much email. What's happening? And what can we do about it?
- Email Antics: I
- Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our
own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas,
in this Part I of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
- Organizing a Barn Raising
- Once you find a task that you can tackle as a "barn raising," your work is just beginning.
Planning and organizing the work is in many ways the hard part.
- Deciding to Change: Choosing
- When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how
they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects
most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: I
- When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting."
We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrQDiRBowjZmRNvcVner@ChacZAtsOhZphrbxntDloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
- You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
- I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
- A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
- …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.