Monday, June 13, 2011

timing your entrance to meetings

Had a great conversation with a good friend about how timing when it comes to meetings.
He’s the president of his class, which means that he’s constantly setting up meetings with the other members of the student council / faculty advisors, and the meetings are where everyone sees him getting his job done. He explained that in the beginning, he followed the mantra of ‘be prepared’, which means he got there ahead of time, set up the room and where he’d like everyone to sit, and had the agenda and materials all planned out. Very quickly, he realized that there’s an interesting power dynamic created when the organizer of the meeting is the first one there. As people filter into the room, he’s forced to make small talk with each one of them, and this chatter saps the strength out of his purpose with the meeting. It also delayed the start as he was constantly having a conversation about whether or not to wait an extra five minutes to start. To change this, he began intentionally arriving late to meetings. Not rudely late, but late enough where he could be sure that 70% of the participants were there. By doing this, he set a precedent – everyone got used to the fact that the moment he arrives, the meeting will begin, regardless of who’s there.

As a teacher, I’ve been taught several times that the opposite is true. Teachers always want to be the first to arrive in the classroom, to ‘own the space’ before any of the students arrive, so that when they push open that door, you’re waiting for them, and they’re entering your space – they’re on your turf. I’ve felt this many times as a teacher – the subtle lack of respect that ensues when my entire class was there occupying or ‘owning’ the space before I arrived. When I enter the room, it’s like I’m an outsider, and keeping their attention would often be more difficult. I also found that chatting with students before class helped build a rapport with my kids, which of course made it easier to teach.

I can only assume that different strategies are required in different situations / for different audiences – good to be aware of the strengths & weaknesses of both.