Well-run meetings allow you and your team to clarify issues, set direction, and move objectives forward. They’re essential to your team’s success. And yet there never seems to be enough time to properly plan and execute meetings.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink whether you should even be leading your own meetings.
When working with managers and executives, I’m often surprised at how many assume the leadership of the meeting falls to the highest-ranking person in the room.
Granted, if it’s a small group or a project-update meeting, managers and project leaders will want to take the lead for the sake of simplicity and time. But when a meeting will have eight or more participants and cover a variety of topics, it’s valuable to think through who should design and lead the conversations—and maybe it’s not you.
Letting other people lead meetings has three key benefits, which I’ve outlined below, along with questions that help you choose the best alternate person.
- Develop your staff. The ability to manage conversations is a crucial skill and as people on your team gain this experience it will build their reputation and influence. Leading meetings lets them exercise these muscles in the normal course of work, which is often more efficient and powerful than sending them to a training program.
- Who would get the most benefit from an opportunity to lead the meeting? Who needs the deliberate practice to master this critical competency? Practicing with you in the room is ideal because it gives them the extra performance edge that comes with being watched, and it gives you the opportunity to observe and provide feedback that will enhance their development.
- Who is new to the group and would gain an increase in stature by being given the charge to design and lead the next several meetings? This might seem like throwing them into the deep end, but development often begins with breaking out of one’s comfort zone.
- Ensure that critical conversations are managed effectively. Skillful facilitation creates a flow to the conversation, elicits diverse viewpoints, and achieves meeting objectives with clear direction and alignment moving forward. While you may have strong facilitation skills, it’s possible that others can do an equal or even better job, especially if they have unique strengths they can bring to a particular conversation.
- Who has the best facilitation skills, especially when the topics or the group might be difficult to manage? Who has the most empathy when different cultures, personalities, or perspectives need to be honored and included? Sometimes the most important skill in a meeting is the ability to give people a sense of belonging so that they feel heard and their ideas have impact. A complex conversation with multiple perspectives and interests or a lack of clarity about the situation will benefit from sensitive, skillful facilitation.
- Who in your group has the least at stake in terms of meeting outcomes and therefore can focus on managing the conversation rather than adding content?Managing the conversation requires careful attention to the dynamics—whether someone needs to be brought into the conversation or an action item needs to be assigned or the discussion has gone off track. It’s difficult for someone closely invested in the outcome to maintain that level of observation.
- Give you time to listen, reflect, and focus your input. If you’re not leading the meeting, you will be freed up to contribute your observations, experience, and perspectives. In addition to the questions above, consider:
- Is there someone from another part of the organization who could lead the meeting so you and everyone in the group can focus on the topic? It might help if they’re familiar with your project or group, but it’s not required. There are also skilled facilitators who lead meetings for a living. Sometimes bringing in someone from the outside is a good option, especially when tensions are high or an unbiased observer would help in managing complicated conversations. Long term, however, the ideal would be to have and build this capability inside your organization.
When you decide to turn a meeting over to someone else, explain your rational to the group. And don’t think you’re off the hook: you still own the responsibility for the meeting going well.
Your team should know that skillfully convening and leading group conversations is an important competency, and that your expectation is to always have constructive, useful meetings. You might want to even encourage people to include meeting facilitation skills in their development goals. Giving others this opportunity both expands this capability in your group and ideally leads to more thoughtful, productive meetings. Your meetings will be ones people actually wantto attend.