• Opinion: A spotter’s guide to meeting archetypes

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  • 11 Aug 2017
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With tongue firmly in cheek, Anthony McDaniel offers his tips on dealing with the biggest cause of problems in meetings: its attendees

We all know that the biggest cause of disruption in any meeting is its attendees. A skillful chair recognises their traits and knows how to discretely manage any undesirable behaviour. Here’s a list of 14 archetypes I’ve come across during my 15-year career in boardrooms. Any likeness to anyone I might know, may have known, or merely sat opposite for countless hours, is purely coincidental.

1. The ‘data miner’

Is constantly trawling for information on their laptop. Their attempts to enlighten the meeting occur five minutes after discussion has moved on to a new topic, which results in a moment of stunned silence while the participants try to comprehend the relevance of the new information.

Disruptive potential: low

Management skill required: low

2. The ‘deflector’

Is skilled at avoiding scrutiny by highlighting issues elsewhere. A favourite tactic is to undermine a presenter’s confidence by claiming that they do not recognise the numbers being shown on the slide.

Disruptive potential: medium

Management skill required: medium/high

3. The ‘depth bomb specialist (DBS)’

Enjoys dropping controversial and often uncollaborated information into the middle of a discussion with the sole purpose of firing up an already fractious meeting. This results in defensive postures being adopted by all and, with luck, the meeting will overrun and fail to get to the DBS’s agenda points, for which they have not prepared.

Disruptive potential: high

Management skill required: medium/high

4. The ‘doodler’

They may appear to be focused intently on sketching a minor Van Gogh, but don’t be fooled – they are highly engaged with the subject matter in hand. Is likely to start thinking aloud regardless of who is speaking.

Disruptive potential: low

Management skill required: none

5. The ‘email junky’

Is obsessed with checking their inbox. To turn off their smartphone is tantamount to switching off their life-support system.

Disruptive potential: medium

Management skill required: medium

6. The ‘fidgeter’

Can’t stay still. Their fingers are constantly twiddling with anything within arm’s reach. They are at their most miserable when there is nothing but a table and chair, but even then they relish the idea of ramming their thumbnail into the grooves in the side of the table.

Disruptive potential: low

Management skill required: low

7. The ‘food hoover’

Attacks anything edible at the table. There are two categories:

  1. those whose digestive system is out of sync with the meeting’s timetable. Flying or being forced to wake up at an unearthly hour (or both) creates such symptoms; and

  2. those suffering prolonged periods of sensory deprivation such as a presentation by the group auditor on their new controls systems. As a result, the brain starts craving some form of pleasurable input, and a food hoover is born.

Disruptive potential: low

Management skill required: low (just make sure there is a constant supply of fresh fruit available)

8. The ‘inquisitor’

Never stops asking questions, however inane the subject matter. They have an insatiable thirst for answers in an unclear world. In the presence of a weak chair they will inadvertently crash the timing of the agenda. Not to be confused with the ‘interrogator’; the inquisitor has no malicious intent.

Disruptive potential: high

Management skill required: high

9. The ‘interrogator’

Terrifies the meeting’s more junior members. They derive great pleasure in unearthing the fault lines in a proposal through ruthless questioning techniques. Usually very competent, well-read and very knowledgeable about everyone else’s specialist subject matter. Their presentations and proposals are so complicated they are deemed to be bullet-proof.

Disruptive potential: medium

Management skill required: medium

10. The ‘joker’

Runs a fine line between lightening the mood of a meeting and getting under the skin of the chair. Can be dangerous in cross-cultural meetings where sarcasm rarely translates well.  

Disruptive potential: medium/high

Management skill required: medium/high

11. The ‘mood hoover’

Sucks the energy out of the meeting, leaving the participants feeling that they had taken the wrong turn in reception and inadvertently gate-crashed a wake.

Disruptive potential: off the Richter scale

Management skill required: good luck

12. The ‘orator’

Has an opinion on absolutely everything, adds nothing of value and only backs down when the chair threatens them with physical violence or calls a break for coffee.

Disruptive potential: where do I start?

Management skill required: very high

13. The ‘scribe’

Takes copious notes about everything and anything that is said. A useful person to sit next to, especially when you have temporarily zoned out of the meeting.

Disruptive potential: none

Management skill required: none

14. The ‘stealthy one’

Avoids drawing attention to themselves by sitting in the chair’s blind spot. They speak only when pressed and then will often have the most to contribute to the meeting. The total opposite to the ‘orator’.

Disruptive potential: low

Management skill required: just a bit of awareness

Anthony McDaniel was able to bring you these uncollaborated observations based on highly unscientific research carried out during his many board meetings over the past 15 years. He is now an independent consultant specialising in HR and change management

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Comments (2)
  • So painfully accurate lol

  • Very good!  Recognise one or two of these!  Thanks for brightening my Friday afternoon