What kind of meeting participant are you?


“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”

Those words of Robbie Burns, Scotland’s favourite son, never rang so true so often as when facilitating a difficult meeting. You’ve prepared an agenda, you’ve done some background work by interviewing participants and you have an artifice or three to keep people engaged. Then someone derails the plans you have so diligently prepared and you madly try to steer things back on course. Suddenly you feel naive and an overwhelming desire to head home and change careers.

Ah Robbie, why did thee not supplieth the solution – instead of stating the bleeding obvious and being all poetic about it.


You need to love a challenge if you are going to facilitate meetings. Like all good issues managers will say, prepare for all scenarios. So often it’s 50% strategy and 50% tactics.

Most importantly you need to have the measure of the people in your meeting – either before you enter the board room, or soon after you’ve set the rules of engagement.

The other day I came across this description of four different kinds of meeting wreckers – those who pursue undesirable forms of participation.

1. The Ghost

Looking out the window, glazed eyes, thinking about the buffet lunch he’s been promised. Contribution 0, impact -5. Will take others down with him.

2. The Passenger

Along for the ride but not the outcome. She’s paying attention, recording her colleagues’ input but not getting involved. Tomorrow she’ll begin the process of undermining everything achieved: line by line.

3. Cruel Critic

Could be a bad week, a bad attitude or a premeditated plan to shoot down and stamp on the ideas of colleagues just as they are taking flight. Will make extroverts see red and introverts retreat never to emerge.

4. Terrorists

He waits until the moment things seem to be taking shape and, BOOM!, drops the bomb guaranteed to send everyone cursing, arms flailing, teeth bared, into their corners. This guy knows will make sure the dynamite is lit at just the point of no return. Game over.

A great facilitator will have done enough research on the group to predict and save 90% of meetings that harbour a wrecker.

Next meeting you facilitate, think about who is in the room. And, when you are a participant, ask what kind of meeting participant you are!

If you are a terrorist, we’re watching you… And we’ll prove that kilted Scotsman wrong.

Rhod Ellis-Jones is an experienced facilitator and pioneer of shared value approaches to high level stakeholder engagement.

Image credit: goldenray_euFlickr Creative Commons