Have you ever been stuck in one of those interminable meetings that go nowhere?Â Ever had one of your own meetings get bogged down and sidetracked?Â
Many years ago (I won’t say how many), very early in my IBM career, I learned a valuable lesson in how to ensure my meetings were good ones.Â In other words, we got things done and finished promptly.Â Here’s myÂ “Aha!” moment.
Â I was a systems engineer (SE)Â for IBM.Â In that position, not only was I the technical half of a sales team, I was alsoÂ responsible for making sure big computer systems we sold got installed properly and that my customers were satisfied with me and their IBM investment.Â Tall order!
Â When preparing for a large installation, it was up to me to gather all the various players involved in theÂ project and go through a processÂ called Systems Assurance.Â These were big meetings with potentially big consequences.Â They were attended by the marketing representative who sold the system in the first place, the marketing manager, the field engineering staff – customer engineers, managers, specialists – who performed the physical installation of the hardware, theÂ SE specialistsÂ handling software issues, and the systems engineering manager (my boss!).Â As the assigned “account SE”, running the systems assurance meeting was my job.Â
Systems Assurance involved filling out a detailed questionnaire about the implementation plan and the progress we were making, with each item rated as either “acceptable” or “action required”.Â From the “action required” items, an action plan was developed.Â All managers present had to sign off on the results.
For my first big systems assurance meeting, I did a considerable amount of preparation.Â I filled out the forms, answering the questions as I felt they should be answered, and developing a proposed action plan from my “action required” items.Â Doing this in advance would, I reasoned, make the meeting go faster.Â In this, I was mostly correct.
At the meeting itself, we had about a dozen people around the table, most with extensive experience and/or management titles.Â Feeling a little intimidated, I started the meeting.Â I took everyone through the questionnaires, my answers, and proposed plans.Â There were a couple of tough moments and the meeting took too long, but on the whole everything went okay.Â Not perfect, but not bad for a first time out.
After the meeting, one of my colleagues remained to talk to me about the meeting, since it was my first systems assurance meeting in the lead position.Â He told me the meeting had gone fairly well, but he had some advice for me to use the next time around.Â
“You are leading this meeting.Â So sit at the head of the table.”
Aha!Â Such a simple thing.Â But how brilliant!Â This had simply not occured to me.Â Never one with the strongest sense of self confidence, I had selected a seat in the conference room somewhere in the middle of the long table.
Next time, I put my mentor’s advice to the test.Â I walked in, strode to the head of the table, and took command.Â This didn’t confer instant leadership status – one’s words and actions really do that – but it sure helped.Â It also helped me to think like the person running the show.Â Â A small distinction, perhaps, but one that can really help when you are learning and not completely confident.Â
Think aboutÂ this the next time you have to run a big meeting.Â Start by assuming the leader’s position in the room and see if that assumption seeps into your soul.Â You may be surprised by the response you get.