|Dear Meeting Guru,
"I am a new subscriber. My meeting dilemma
is this: Our business is dependent on consistently growing our sales.
At the same time we are very attentive to the possibility of bad
debt. We therefore have what looks to be diametrically opposed goals
for the sales department and the accounts receivable department.
This often has led to confrontation and argumentative relationships
between the two areas. Our desire is to have a meeting where the
two departments can first understand that there can appear to be
different goals for each but, in fact, there is only one overriding
goal and that is the attainment of the company's mission. I would
like to have a better understanding of the techniques to facilitate
such a meeting from how the agenda is best structured to the method
of conducting the meeting and how to maintain focus and control."
Dealing with opposing views is never easy. If you’re leading a meeting that
is likely to be confrontational, you’ll have to take this into account during
the initial planning stage.
First, be very clear as to the purpose of the meeting. Before your meeting,
set goals and decide upon the specific objective. Have a list of agenda items
that need to be discussed, and identify the desired outcome for each. For example,
a section of your meeting agenda might look something like this:
Discuss the sales budget for the upcoming quarter
Objective: Define a definite
budget and allocate it across sales activities
Discuss company goals and objectives for the upcoming year
Objective: Define a set of measurable
goals for the sales department to have achieved in the next year. Have
accounting allocate a budget to achieve each one of those goals.
If your discussion isn’t structured, it’s more likely to disintegrate into
petty bickering. Attempting to reach a clearly defined objective will create
a sense of unity between opposing groups, which is really the underlying purpose
of your meeting.
When you send the invitations to the meeting, ask attendees if they have any
agenda item requests. If participants are able to contribute to the meeting
agenda, they’re less likely to feel resentful coming into the meeting. Once
you’ve compiled the agenda, make sure everyone has access to it before the meeting.
If participants come into the meeting with a better understanding of the objectives,
it will help everyone understand their colleagues’ motivations, before things
Carefully consider who should be attending the meeting. Only invite those whose
attendance is absolutely necessary. The fewer people involved, the easier it
is for everyone to have their say, and the easier it is for the facilitator
to keep things on track.
During the meeting, make sure you involve as many people as possible. Ask quiet
attendees for their opinions, call on a variety of people, and don't allow nonstop
talkers to monopolize the discussion. You might find that it’s only a few vocal
individuals who are argumentative. If their involvement is limited, things may
run a lot smoother.
As the meeting leader, it's also your responsibility to keep things on track.
This means steering the meeting discussion in a way that fulfills the meeting
objectives. If you have difficult personalities in the room or opposing views,
this can be challenging! Try using sentences such as, "That's a valid
point, but doesn't directly apply to this discussion. Perhaps we should schedule
a separate meeting to address it fully." Or, "It's obvious
there are some opposing views surrounding this issue. Perhaps our time would
be best spent working towards a compromise. Any suggestions?" If a
meeting becomes particularly heated, it's best to address what's possible in
the meeting but consider hiring a professional facilitator for the next meeting
– a neutral leader who's trained to deal with high-pressure, high-conflict meetings.
Make sure you develop action items for issues that need follow-up. Assign a
particular individual or group to complete each action item. A deadline and
priority level should also be assigned for the action items. If attendees see
that there is a concrete result to their meeting, they will be more open to
And finally, at the end of the meeting, make sure you review the meeting process.
Take a few moments to discuss what the group did well during the meeting and
which areas need improving. Letting everyone have their say will go a long way
in reducing some of the disharmony between your groups.
I hope this has given you a base
on which to plan your meeting. The most important thing is to emphasize that
both groups have a shared goal – they just have different ways of attaining
it! Make sure everyone is working towards their own specific objectives – that
way they will be less concerned with what the other group is doing, and more
focused on the benefits for the entire organization. As the wise philosopher
Confucius once said, "If one learns from others but does not think, one
will be bewildered. If, on the other hand, one thinks but does not learn from
others, one will be in peril."
Until next time
may good meeting karma always be with you.