Make meeting roles explicit

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 20th March 2019

I was asked to attend a meeting with a new client recently to discuss the relevance of our productivity training for their team. The meeting invite was sent out by the client to me and a handful of internal people.

As the meeting invitees came into the meeting room, I was introduced to each by my contact, but not told what their interest in the meeting was, or their role. The only one fully introduced to me was the senior manager involved, who would make any final decisions.

My contact kicked off the meeting well and soon we were discussing their productivity issues as well as my approach to productivity. The conversation was between me, my contact (who had organised the meeting), and the senior manager.

The other three participants listened intently. Towards the end of the meeting they were asked if they had any questions or wanted to add anything. They all politely said no. The meeting finished, and as I walked to the lift, I could not help wondering, ‘Who were they, and why were they there?’

It got me thinking about how many people must get invited to meetings just like that. Perhaps the organiser is trying to be inclusive, or perhaps they think their expertise might be needed. But that was almost an hour of three peoples’ time that I suspect was underutilised as they had no explicit role in the meeting. And because they were not clear on their role, they took the default option: they became spectators rather than participants.

I believe we should make it standard practice that at the start of every meeting we take a few minutes to not only set the context, but also explicitly assign meeting roles. This means naming each participant and letting everyone know why they have been invited and what will be needed from them.

Taking the time to do this would achieve two things. Firstly, it would get everyone on the same page, especially potential spectators. Spectators are more likely to become participants when they are clearer about what is expected of them. Secondly, it will result in richer, more rounded conversations because everyone knows how their contributions might add value.

A few minutes spent at the start of your meetings setting them up for success is always worth it. So, will you make it standard practice to assign roles to everyone who attends?

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