Explore internal politics to fully understand the issues

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Dear Joan:
I am a salesperson for a large corporation. Recently, I went to a meeting at our headquarters to represent the field. At the meeting were representatives of two headquarters committees to discuss two sensitive issues. I was to lead the discussion.
 

At the meeting, a lower level executive from a third group attended. This person was obviously uninformed and proved rather disruptive. One really wonders what goes on at headquarters sometimes. This person really sabotaged a lot of hard work done by the two invited groups. 

My question is, as the meeting chair, what should I have done or could do to prevent these disruptions? We all left with a bad feeling and I feel nothing was accomplished. 

Answer:
To an outsider, internal politics can be baffling and frustrating. In this case, a political snag may have caught you unaware. To unravel the mystery, you may have to do some corporate sleuthing.
 

Let's examine some clues about what might be going on and then what you could do to protect your meetings from further trouble. Consider that the unwanted guest may actually have been invited- either by one of the headquarters groups or by someone at a higher level in the organization. It's unlikely that a lower level executive would simply show up uninvited, particularly to discuss a sensitive issue. 

If this person was invited, you need to know who invited this guest and why. You can take the direct approach and ask the guest, or ask the key players in both of the headquarters groups. Chances are that they have figured out what is going on. 

If one of the headquarter's group leaders invited the guest, it may be because the guest was needed to say something the group leader felt hesitant to say. Think back. Did anyone seem to support what the guest was saying? Maybe that is the person who did the inviting. 

What is the guest's vested interest? What group do they represent? What is the guest's level of credibility in the company? You need to ask questions about what he or she had to gain by being there. Were the disruptions truly out of ignorance or was real sabotage going on? What was the theme of the disruption? Perhaps the naive questioning was really an attempt to send a message. 

If you get this far in the corporate puzzle and know who did the inviting, it's important to discuss it with him or her directly. If the person has a hidden concern about the issues, you need to uncover it, or more "disruptions" could follow. You can't solve the problem without knowing all the hidden agendas and trapdoors. 

But what if you get this far in the maze and find that the guest really had no ulterior motives? In that case, consider meeting off site next time, so that drop-in guests can't find you. Another side benefit is that meeting on neutral turf cools off sometimes hot issues. 

If another guest should drop in on future meetings, try to corner the person before the meeting begins and brief him or her on what you're trying to accomplish. You may want to gently suggest that the person sit in the back of the room as an observer. Assure the person that you will meet with him or her later to clear up any questions that develop during the meeting. You can also suggest this if the person is getting the group off track during the meeting. 

Another tactic is to ask a key headquarters person to co-chair the session. They will be more tuned in to corporate agendas and be in a position to help you manage the meeting and the logistics. 

In any event, if you're working with corporate headquarters, you need to understand the whole puzzle from both sides if you are to solve the mystery...and the issues.   


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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