The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics

There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals.

You're preparing for a team meeting in about an hour. It's your meeting, and you expect a difficult discussion, because the team must decide a very polarizing issue by the close of business today. Some of the attendees, including the team lead from a subcontractor whose work is consistently late, will be attending by telephone. As you're puzzling through the problem of how to handle the mess, you get a phone call from your boss. The VP of Marketing called her, and he wants to "sit in on this one." He wants "to make sure things turn out right," whatever that means.

The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics

People working politically. Politics happens in almost every meeting.

Are you confident that you can lead the team through such a complex situation effectively? Do you know what your choices are, and what tools are available to you?

Leading meetings effectively, and participating in meetings effectively, requires much more than agendas, conference rooms, flip charts, markers, speakerphones, or projectors. You also have to know how to use them, and that's where politics enters. People need to feel heard, they hate to waste time, and the chair needs to know how to handle sticky situations. This insight-filled program deals with issues such as:

  • What to do when powerful people "sit in"
  • Where to sit in the room
  • How to craft an agenda that drives the meeting
  • How to prevent duels and how to intervene when necessary
  • How to prepare and run telemeetings
  • How to handle handouts
  • How to plan and run an "issues-only" meeting
  • How to avoid playing "Serial Status Report"
  • How to get the right volunteers

Most of us begin our careers not leading meetings, but participating in them. As we advance in our organizations, we tend to carry this participation-oriented stance with us, and that causes problems. As leaders, we focus too often on participating in meetings, rather than leading them.

Managing a meeting begins with managing yourself. To keep your head clear, and to be ready to handle the sticky issues that sometimes arise, you must limit your load. In this program we provide a general framework that helps meeting leaders focus on leading the meeting rather than participating in its content.

Comments from attendees

Shannon Sauro, Director of Telecommunications & Business Processes, The College at Brockport, State University of New York
This was by far, the most energizing and informational presentation I have ever attended. I actually left this presentation wanting more! It focussed on my weakness (politics). It was based on reality and was easily understood. All the information provided was applicable to my current position. Two ideas I used immediately: where to sit in a meeting, and how to generate brilliant questions.
Cheri Evans, COCC, Project Manager, Customer Conversions
Rick provided great real-world examples that I can take back to the office — and my personal life — and use.
And some anonymous comments:
This was an excellent session and should be a must for project managers or anyone who runs a meeting!
Educational, interactive, and funny — no coffee needed for this session!
Wildly informative!

Program structure and content

This program is available as a keynote, workshop, seminar, breakout, or clinic. We learn through exercises, simulations, and post-program activities. We explore these aspects of politics, and apply models of group behavior to help participants learn:

  • The importance of asking for (and receiving) the right kind of help from the meeting attendees
  • How to establish a sound political foundation for the meeting before it even starts
  • How room geometry and seating position affect human behavior
  • How and when to intervene in toxic conflict
  • The seven most deadly logical fallacies and how to prevent their use
  • The art of crafting agendas
  • The effects of hardware: projectors, laptops, blackberries, etc.
  • The most effective protocols for the "parking lot"

Program outline

  • Introduction
    • What is a meeting?
    • What is politics?
    • Establishing the learning environment
    • Defining the goal
  • Managing the environment
    • What to look for in a room: size, ventilation, lighting, acoustics
    • All about equipment: seating, tables, projectors, laptops, etc.
    • Choosing where to sit (and seat others)
    • Dealing with environmental troubles
  • Managing the agenda
    • Gathering agenda items is a political act
    • Construct the agenda with politics in mind
    • Agenda writing skills
    • Keeping time with timekeepers
    • Parking lots and their attendants
  • Leading the attendees
    • The benefits of asking for help
    • How to arrange seating
    • The elements of fair debate
    • Three discussion frameworks and their uses
  • Dealing with toxic conflict
    • Detecting toxicity early
    • Dealing with duels and explosions
    • Toxic alliances
    • What to do when you're involved yourself
  • Dispersed meetings and their politics
    • Symmetric and asymmetric meetings
    • The costs of asymmetry
    • Dealing with organizational alignments
    • The effects of dispersion: time zones, language, etc.
  • The politics of chairing
    • Inherent conflicts of interest
    • Perceived (as opposed to real) conflicts of interest
    • How to choose a facilitator
    • When Power attends the meeting
  • Summary and wrap-up
    • What to do tomorrow
    • Monitoring your own learning
    • Resources for the future

Learning model

The one-day and two-day formats of this program include copies of my ebook 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics for all participants and their supervisors (a value). Ideal for those who like to supplement their learning by reading, or as a reference for later study. MoreWe usually think of workplace skills as if they were free of emotional content. We hold this belief even though we know that our most difficult situations can be highly charged. Despite these sincere beliefs, taking personal or organizational performance to the next level does require learning how to apply what we know even in situations of high emotional content. That's why this program uses a learning model that differs from the one often used for technical content.

Our learning model is partly experiential, which makes the material accessible even during moments of stress. Using a mix of presentation, simulation, group discussion, and metaphorical team problems, we make available to participants the resources they need to make new, more constructive choices even in tense situations.

Target audience

Executives, leaders, managers, and project team members. We work either with individuals, or with an entire team or with a group drawn from many teams.

Program duration

Available formats range from 50 minutes to two full days. The longer formats allow for more coverage or more material, more experiential content and deeper understanding of issues specific to audience experience.

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