22/01/2016


Facilitating International Meetings

How many times have you felt frustrated during a business meeting? Unclear objectives, dominant participants with their own agenda and indecision from the chair leave you feeling you have wasted your time and energy. And mismatched cultural styles and expectations can make international meetings even more challenging. Failing to consider the communication and decision making style of participants can often lead to conflict, causing wasted time and a lack of clear outcomes.

Here are some participant personalities that you might encounter when facilitating international meetings.

1. The doer

This person likes quick decisions and wants to spend the minimum time possible in making decisions. Their ideal meeting is short, has clear objectives, minimum discussion and clear decisions.

This might sound good but ‘doers’ don’t always care about detail and may miss key problems. If they are allowed to dominate, others may lack confidence to ensure that key issues have been considered.

If you do business with US companies, look out for a ‘doer’ in the meeting.

2. The strategist

This person likes to know that they have made the right decision. They like to explore all the options in detail and follow a strict process. You can feel confident that they will have considered all eventualities and any decisions made will have been well considered.

However, this is a slow process and requires lots of discussion. By focusing on details, others may feel that they are indecisive and lack leadership.

You often find strategists in countries such as Germany and Switzerland.

3. The chatterer

This person probably has a high tolerance for ambiguity and trusts everyone to understand what they have to do. This means that meetings can appear like a ‘coffee morning chat’ and there may seem to be no agenda or objectives.

Although everybody feels very comfortable in the meeting, the next steps are not clearly spelled out so they may not know what to do next.

The former chief editor of the Financial Times was famous for this style of communication and you may find many other British executives share a similar style.

4. The silent one

This person believes that meetings exist in order to confirm decisions that have been taken in private conversations. Therefore, they may be uncomfortable with lots of public discussion in the meeting itself and remain silent.

Others may infer from this that they have no opinions but, in reality, they feel unable to comment without knowing what other people’s position is. By not conferring with them in advance, you miss their insightful comments.

In many Asian countries, issues are decided before the meeting so, when working in Asia, you may find that ‘the silent one’ is often at your meetings.

When these different personality and cultural types come together, it can be challenging to manage their competing values and different ways of working. If you are facilitating an international meeting, think carefully about the participants’ cultural background and communication preferences before the meeting.

Here are some tips to accommodate all types in your meeting:

  1. Write the agenda and circulate it early - This will allow the strategist to explore the problems before the meeting, allowing the meeting to focus on decisions. 
  2. Invite comments and follow up by asking for people’s opinions - This will make the silent one feel comfortable to come to you with any suggestions or concerns. You will then be able to raise them in the meeting, ensuring all views are heard.
  3. Set aside time for small talk at the beginning but make it clear when the meeting starts - This will satisfy the chatterer that relationships are being addressed but not frustrate other participants.
  4. State the objective and process of the meeting at the start - This will encourage the doer that there is a clear purpose and outcome to the meeting, allowing him to understand why others need to discuss things in more detail.
  5. Summarise often - This will ensure people can see the purpose of discussion, how the meeting is moving towards an outcome and that different styles are being accommodated.  It will also help non-native speakers of English who may not always follow everything that is said.
  6. When everyone has commented, move towards a decision quickly - By getting people to make decisions publicly, you satisfy those who want quick decisions but also give more detail focused people the opportunity to ask questions.
  7. State the next steps and allocate tasks clearly – This will avoid ambiguity.  Follow up by email with a summary of actions.

International meetings can be challenging to manage but following these guidelines can help to avoid ambiguity and guarantee everyone is clear about the objectives and outcomes of the meeting.



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