As I watch meetings roll along, the good, the bad and the ugly, I often wish that chairs would observe the habits of the crouching tiger. This Sumatran beauty is lying on the rock, perfectly calm, alert and at ease – but ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. If you are chairing a meeting, and your group has agreed upon some norms of conduct, be prepared to speak up immediately if they are broken. Holding back, wishing people would shape up, and finally, belatedly mentioning the rules, will not be effective.
A chair who keeps people up to the mark can reap great benefits in efficiency. At a recent meeting I ran, a member commented that she couldn’t participate in a project because she was moving that weekend. Another member turned and asked, “where to?” – a question with no relevance to our work. I cut him off with a light “not germane!” and we stayed on track to finish on time.
This group knows my style so no offense was taken. Keeping the human connection and a warm tone is essential, otherwise people may grow resentful. In particular, remember the “chilled tomato” effect. A single instance of harshness or sarcasm can destroy people’s good will, just as a blast of cold air will wither tomatoes on the vine.
The crouching tiger’s role is not an easy one. You have to know the rules, and you have to be ready to act on them, while remaining calm and centered. But if you keep cheerful and keep reminding people to follow your group’s norms, everyone will be grateful in the end.