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This chapter is from the book

Setting the List of Attendees—Participants and Observers

Having surveyed the full cadre of potential participants, you can now winnow or expand the list as appropriate for the meeting purpose.

Your interviews may have revealed one or more people who don’t have a clearly defined role in the meeting. They may not even know why they have been asked to attend. Participants who attend a meeting but do not have a clear raison d’être in the meeting are distracting. As partially engaged attendees, they have the power to deplete your and the team’s energy. They may have a hard time determining their useful role during the group’s Forming stage. And as a group moves into its Storming phase, figuring out how to work together, these attendees without clear focus can create confusing and potentially destructive dynamics for others. In their meeting "identity crisis," they get uselessly caught up in the conflicts that can arise and may even create conflicts in order to have a role in the meeting, albeit a dysfunctional one.

These are the people you need to help understand that their contributions are best applied elsewhere.

Your interviews may have also revealed that some of the attendees plan to just "observe." A seasoned facilitator will tell you that there is no such thing as someone who just observes a meeting. Inevitably, the observer has an observation to share. If someone claims that they are just an observer in your meeting, provide them with this helpful set of guidelines:

  • You may not speak to participants during the meeting.
  • You may not speak to other observers during the meeting.
  • You may not enter and exit the meeting at will.
  • You may not work on your own work during the meeting; this includes your laptop, your iPaq, your PDA, your Blackberry, your daytimer, or your cellphone.

If you still have observers undaunted by these guidelines, check in a bit further with their intentions with the meeting:

  • Find out why they think they need to observe—This may take asking, "The Five Whys," but do it. Their answer can give you information about the politics or the power of the group.
  • Find out if their presence can be detrimental to the team’s collaboration—Observers often tend to be from management or stakeholder roles. If they are not directly providing expertise and are not directly taking responsibility in the meeting, their presence may only serve to squash the trust of the team about their work.

In most of these cases, you should be able to ascertain the true role of the attendee. Invite them to attend in a participatory fashion or, with approval from the team, welcome them as an observer and remind them of the ground rules that will guide their "good observer citizen" behavior.

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