Carolyn was clearly frustrated.
“He just completely took over the meeting… I felt like I had no ability to regain control.”
“How did he do that?”, I asked.
“He just asked a simple question. ‘What is the objective of this meeting?'”, she replied with a look of confusion on her face.
“I don’t get it, how did that one question ‘take over’ the meeting?” Now it was my turn to be confused.
“He just completely outed me for not doing enough preparation for the meeting, and then he proceeded to just invent an objective and create an agenda on the fly. It was a complete hostile takeover!” Carolyn’s body language shifted from confusion to indignation.
“But didn’t you publish an agenda in the meeting invite?”, I challenged.
“Well… not really. One of the team members included a document with some of the questions we needed answered. But I really didn’t have a clear plan.” she admitted with obvious concern. “Was that wrong? I guess I expected that we would spend the first few minutes of the meeting figuring it out.”
“So when Jack asked the question, how did you respond?”
“I said that I was trying to ‘level set’ so that we all had the same understanding of the topics in the attached document. And then he just asked question after question trying to get clarity on the topics and why we even needed to get together. I was getting a lot of questions from the team, and I just coordinated a meeting to get questions answered.” Carolyn looked at her feet.
“Why did you invite Jack to the meeting?”, I inquired.
“He is the owner of one the products that are being built in the program. I didn’t really expect him to contribute to the meeting, except to make sure that what was shared was correctly representing his product. I realize now that he had no idea why he was even invited.”
“It seems like you didn’t expect Jack to actively contribute. So who did you expect to provide the information that would help the team ‘level set’ and also, and what did you think would signal when the level set was done?”, I probed.
“To be completely honest, I wasn’t really sure who had the information and I didn’t really know how to get to done. I Just invited everyone on the team and all of the owners in the hope that we could figure it out.” She seemed like all the air had been let out of her balloon.
“It sounds like Jack was effective in leading the discussion after he executed the hostile takeover”, I offered.
Carolyn’s face flashed from shame to anger in an instant. “That is the frustrating part, he seemed to know exactly how to figure it out, how to get the conversation started, exactly who knew all of the answers. Not only did we level set, but we figured out next steps, assigned responsibility, and came out with a clear action plan. In short, he made me feel like a chump. I can see why he has the role he has – but I really need to learn how to do what he did. It was my responsibility and I couldn’t do it.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I would love to talk to Jack to learn how he came into a meeting and figured out in 30 seconds that I didn’t have a clue, and what he would have done different to prepare for the meeting.”, she said, looking hopeful for the first time in the conversation.
“I think you have your action plan. Let me knows how it goes with Jack.” I said as I left her cube.