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When a Co-worker Wants You to Run their Meeting

A co-worker has invited you to their meeting. Now you're sitting in the meeting, and this co-worker seems to be looking to you to lead it. Uh, oh.

You were under the mistaken impression that you would be a mere meeting participant, not the meeting's lead facilitator! But this co-worker sits at the top of the conference room table, looking to you and...waiting. Waiting, ahem, for you to take over the meeting for them. Hint, hint. What is taking you so long?

Maybe you feel unprepared to take the reins. It's much more likely, however, that you feel more than prepared to take the reins as an established "gray hair" of the group -- and this is precisely why the employee is looking to you for help!

Suddenly, you feel like Harrison Ford's character, Jack Trainer, in that scene from the movie Working Girl where Katherine Parker asks Jack to help her out of a tough spot and he shakes his head no. Your meeting situation isn't nearly as dramatic or under-handed, but the meeting vibe feels kind of the same: throw me a life line here, will you?!

Going from Meeting Participant to Facilitator
Welcome to a workplace problem you might encounter in the business world as you gain work experience. You thought you could show up to the 2 p.m. meeting with your technology devices and a cup of coffee, and then kick back and listen to somebody else lead the meeting. You would be ready, of course, to offer any necessary input here and there, and to ask for needed clarification.

But it's becoming clear as the meeting gets underway that this colleague would prefer to hand the laser pointer to somebody else instead! Hmm. Will you take it, or not?

There's a reason your co-worker wants you to lead the meeting (while they get credit for scheduling it, we will assume). Did they show up unprepared? Did they go forward with a meeting they didn't have time to plan for, and therefore decided to wing it? Do they lack basic confidence in their ability to organize a meeting agenda, or presentation skills? Are they afraid of speaking in front of groups? These are all valid possibilities. Becoming a polished speaker takes years of practice!

You have a quick decision to make here. As an experienced colleague turned potential meeting facilitator, you might feel conflicted amid this meeting of the unprepared minds. On the one hand, letting this co-worker flail in front of the whole group can be a valuable learning experience for them. Namely, that if they do not prepare ahead of time, then they could be caught flat-footed in front of senior management! Chances are good they won't let it happen again.

On the other hand, stepping up if a meeting facilitator is truly struggling can be the kind thing to do, if only to keep the meeting on track so it ends on time. Watching a co-worker run a meeting they didn't prep for can be an excruciating experience. However, if you help out too much, then this co-worker might walk away with the unintended message that they can always hand the facilitator role (along with the laser pointer...) to somebody more experienced. This tactic does not help the employee improve, and quickly gives their future meetings a bad name.

Your options in this situation are (1) stay quiet and deflect all hints or offers to facilitate the meeting; (2) jump in and take over the meeting; or (3) do #1 or #2 but tell the employee afterward they will need to be much better prepared in the future, because time is valuable and nobody likes to be put in an awkward position.

In fact, it's probably better to reschedule a meeting if the employee needs more prep time. Winging it in front of everyone isn't winning it.

Have you ever felt like a co-worker wanted you to run their meeting? If so, feel free to share what works for you in this awkward situation. I'll fire up the laptop so you can use PowerPoint. And here's the laser pointer, too.


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