I get it. You can’t plan for every possible problem that might come up during a meeting.
You can plan for many of them, though. And there’s no reason you should be surprised by these common constraints.
Embrace your meeting constraints
Constraints make your job more difficult. They also provide the challenges that keep it interesting.
If we always had plenty of time, all the skills we needed, full authority to implement any of our decisions, along with all the other items on our wish lists; running meetings would be easy and maybe even a bit boring.
In the real world, we don’t always get what we want, so we find creative ways to work with the situation, as it exists.
The common challenges you need to meet
A lack of time is constraint number one. It’s rare there is only one. That’s why when preparing to lead a meeting for a client I always ask a bunch of questions to uncover the others. These are the constraints you are likely to encounter:
Groups usually want to use less time than you believe it will take. I can’t tell you how many times a client has said, “How long do you think it will take?” When I suggest the better part of the day, I’ve learned to expect a response like, “We have three hours and two would be better.”
Groups usually want it sooner rather than later. I don’t find this to be that big of a deal unless there’s a significant amount of prep work I or the meeting participants need to do. If you want them to read a 75 page report prior to attending and you need the meeting to happen the day after tomorrow, you better put on your thinking cap. You’ve got a problem.
There are almost always some folks you would like in the meeting that you can’t get. There are also people you would like to avoid that you’re forced to include. For example, you learn that the president will attend the meeting. You know her presence will squash participation by the others. You need to figure out how to prevent that from happening.
There may be things that should be included in the group’s work that you are told to exclude. Imagine preparing for a problem solving meeting. A few people have clued you in about an elephant in the room, and one of them with the authority to pull it off tells you not to raise that problem during the meeting. Again, a serious constraint that you need to work through.
Sometimes there are preconceived ideas about what should or should not happen. Depending on the politics of the situation, there may be good ideas that the group cannot recommend, because they’ve been instructed not to.
Often there are limited options for where to hold the meeting, and you may have to plan for a space that is less than optimal. For example, the client says that the meeting must be done electronically, because the participants are scattered all over the country, and they can’t afford to fly everyone in. You will do this meeting even though you know it’s the kind of meeting in which everyone should be physically gathered around the same table.
Are You Ready?
It’s constraints like these that require a great plan. Are you up for the challenge? Now that you are aware of them, I see no reason why you won’t be ready.