12 Most Dangerous Meetings: Career Caution!
Meetings are a fact of life in organizations of all sizes. Lately I’ve been to one too many of a meeting about a meeting. Why must we waste time in this way!? I often wonder how we actually get any work done. The ideal meeting has an agenda, is run by a person either trained in facilitation or a leader of some flavor, is held in a workspace with steady-state temperature, and is populated by people committed to solving a problem or advancing the company’s goals.
REALITY CHECK. Bet you haven’t been to a meeting like that lately, have you? I bet you’ve been to meetings about having other meetings. Meetings in rooms where the temperature ranges from 55 to 89 in two minutes flat and at least one person is menopausal or depressed. Meetings where people are answering their phones, texting, whispering, coughing with their mouths open. You know these kinds of meetings. Wink.
In real life, most meetings are ineffectual, sometimes even a disaster. Handle yourself wrong, come in unprepared, and that meeting could be career-limiting.
Here are 12 common types of meetings you’ll encounter in the workplace – and how to behave in such a way that the next meeting is not your last. Trust me, I’ve been there.
1. The Staff Meeting
A well-run staff meeting can rally the troops, provide useful information to all employees simultaneously and provide people with a view into where the company is going, why, and why their efforts are important. Sadly most staff meetings are poorly organized, put together at the last minute and attended by surly and aggrieved co-workers. Survive the staff meeting by being attentive, taking notes, commenting with positive ideas (hold those negative thoughts for a private follow up) and practicing active listening. Tip: leave the cell phone at your desk. Nothing is more annoying than people who take calls or text madly throughout a meeting. The truth: poorly-run staff meetings are soul-destroying. Warn others.
2. The Project Update Meeting
You’re part of a project team. Half the people are in other locations. You’re using a bridge line and conference phone, which of course has latency issues or faulty noise reduction software, so you can’t hear when someone starts talking over another person. Bonus round: only a third of the people have completed their assignments. Get through this meeting by jotting down notes of what you need to say, not talking over or interrupting others, sitting near the phone, and – it almost goes without saying – doing your work before the meeting. Tip: don’t bring your cell – see #1.
3. The One-on-One
Know that this is a test, and be prepared. If your boss asks for a one-on-one, make sure you know the topic in advance, and prepare. The one-on-one is always about how you’re doing – or not doing. Never make excuses, don’t apologize and don’t argue – be prepared, have a script, know your stuff. It’s the most lethal meeting type, so be on your toes. If you’re called in to a one-on-one with HR, you might want to start working on your resume.
4. The Client Visit
Not all clients are nice people. Some are sadists. Some visit to check up on you. Some want to get out of their offices for a day. Some like to watch your team twist. Some want to see if your offices are real, state-of-the-art and clean. Probably less than half of client visits actually accomplish anything. Have a written agenda; have drinks and some light food; make sure the whiteboards are clean; have a facilitator to make sure you go through the entire agenda. Make sure someone takes notes, summarizes action items and sends them to all participants. Follow up on all action items. Treat your client like a guest, not a pal, not an enemy, but don’t put up with any crap, either. You’re in a business relationship, so act that way. Even if the client is a jerk.
5. The Project Kickoff Meeting
It’s always high-stakes in a project kickoff meeting. It’s where goals are set, pecking order is established, deliverables and dates are agreed on. Run through goals with your manager first. Know why you’re at the meeting and what’s expected of you. Agree in advance on three things you need to accomplish, and get them done. Take notes and report back – and include personality sketches, and your assessment of who’s really in it to get things done. Remember it’s a project, not the rest of your life. You can do this.
6. The Team Meeting
Regular team meetings are essential in many organizations, but they can be fraught with danger. Not all teams get along. Some people may be disorganized or have negative attitudes. Go in acting like a leader. Make people accountable. Have your own assignments complete. And use each team meeting as an opportunity to build consensus and team spirit – don’t act like a cheerleader, but a leader. Stuck with a dysfunctional team? Well, aren’t we all at some point?
7. The Off-Site Meeting
Beloved of managers who think going to a hotel or conference center in the middle of nowhere will invigorate the troops and get things back on track. Games may be involved, or consultants doing Meyers-Briggs and other party tricks. IRL, this is bad strategy and almost never results in team building. Expect lots of eye-rolling and borderline disruptive behavior. Don’t plan off-sites unless you have a goal and a really good reason. Never think of these meetings as a ‘reward’ – they are to be survived. Don’t kid yourself that they’re fun.
8. The Performance Review Meeting
Some managers do quarterly reviews, some annual. Either way this can be the most dangerous meeting of all. A good manager will never surprise you in a performance review, but good managers are few and far between. So prepare by reviewing at your objectives, re-reading your last review, and coming prepared with a document that lists all your achievements against objectives, as well as areas where you went above and beyond expectations. Expect a few surprises and be prepared to hear hard things – some manager think it’s bad form to give an all-positive review. Be strong, and keep you emotions in check. Don’t argue – note where what you hear diverges from your reality, and ask to review those sections. Be dispassionate, not defensive.
9. The Budget Review Meeting
Another essential meeting, and one which should go smoothly if you’re prepared. If it’s an internal meeting, have your numbers crunched in advance. Ask for what you need but don’t pad too much. If it’s a budget review with a client, be realistic. Look at what you really need for budget to service the client properly, have your rationale, and ask for an appropriate budget. Don’t be defensive or uncertain. If you can’t add, bring a calculator or a colleague who didn’t flunk math three times.
10. The (Insert Year) Planning Meeting
Yes, you really do need to do an annual plan, even though chances are things will change. This is the meeting where you should bring your vision for what should be, strategies that will support the vision and tactics that will get you there. If there isn’t an agenda available in advance, bring a straw-man. And have last year’s plan as reference. Gosh – remember when companies did five year plans? At least those days are over.
11. The Industry Conference
If you’re sent to a conference or trade show, you’ve been sent to a meeting, just with another set of people. Behave well. Don’t get drunk and throw up on an industry analyst’s shoes. Know the company messaging. Know the competitors. Don’t tick off a potential customer, and don’t eye the gal or guy at the next booth. Especially in Vegas.
12. Any Company Party
Yet another dangerous meeting. The goal here should be to do no damage to your reputation. Dress appropriately, don’t get outrageously drunk, and say thank you. Remember management thinks these parties are a good thing, and they also think you should enjoy them and be grateful. Don’t smirk or scowl. Try to get into the spirit of the thing. If you bring your spouse or partner, remind him or her not to say snide things to the boss’s partner. Smile. It won’t kill you, and you might actually enjoy yourself. It could happen.
What meetings seem most risky to you, and how do you handle yourself?
Photo courtesy of garryknight. Used under creative commons, some rights reserved.