Mind where you park it meetings

Business Week has a short article about meeting seating dynamics. (Image from Businessweek.com)

I've read about this before. I agree with it to some extent, however, something that I think the article doesn't mention, that I have noticed, is that peoples' seating may change based on the subject of the meeting and their role within the group. I think about meetings that I have been in where my role was to observe more than participate and that's a very good reason to sit on the side-lines so someone else can pull up to the table and engage. I've pretty much sat in every one of those seats in the graphic for one reason or another. I admit that the few times I've had in-person team meetings with my folks, I do sit facing the door. I hate being so predictable. Next time, I'm going to mix it up just because.

Interestingly, since my team works from home, I notice some interesting things on conference calls as well. Obviously, without visual cues, you have less to go on and sometimes you have to call on people to share their opinions. It's just one of those things that you have to do to have a successful field-based team. Sometimes, the degree to which one participates depends on how they are feeling about their work at the moment; quieter = less engaged (we all go through those peaks and valleys of motivation, right?). Having an exciting project can really change how you think about all of your work and how you participate with your team. I could come up with a new list of players for phone meetings: the interrupter, the joker, the multi-tasker, The note taker, the person running the sink (you hope). Not to freak my team members out that I am paying attention to this kind of stuff, but of course I am. Every manager should just from a standpoint of understanding where people are coming from and what you can to to help them operate to their best potential.

Comments (7)

  1. enomis says:

    I’ve encountered these situations many times. The one that stands out is the person directly right of the boss. It is usually a climbing sycophant.

  2. Lauren Smith says:

    Here in Japan, the seating arrangements are very rigid and the position in which you may sit is complex, depending on your position of power within the group/company. Customers or guests of the company bring extra complexity that makes figuring out where to sit very difficult.

    I typically just wait for everyone to sit down first then take whatever chair is left over. On second thought, I typically avoid any meetings where this type of hassle is bound to arise.

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hmm, that’s interesting Lauren. So let’s say you walk into a meeting. How do you  decide where to sit? Or by rigid, did you mean that someone basically tells you where to sit.

  4. Lauren Smith says:

    It depends on who you are and what your importance to the meeting is.

    The boss must sit at the power position of the table, which is always the furthest facing the door. Unless there is a customer, in which case the customer will take that seat. Unless there are more than one customer visitors, in which case they will take their seats in accordance with their relative positions within their company and also to the importance of their presence in the meeting.

    On either side of the boss will sit the next level down in the company hierarchy, unless such a person is not present, at which point the person with the most relevance to the meeting will take the appropriate position.

    And so on.

    You must be able to look to one side and have that person be addressable in the honorific, and look to the other side and have that person be addressable in the un-honorific (or alternatively to have no one sitting there).

    It’s also important to sit near the people of your relevance. You wouldn’t see an engineer sitting next to an accountant, for example.

    It’s not that someone tells you where to sit. You just have to know. Although I’ve been told a few times to move after sitting in the wrong spot.

  5. Wine-Oh says:

    That reminds me of the whole culture in Asia with how business cards are presented. Its not like the US where you reach into your wallet or card holder and give a card. Its very a very formal process.

    I of course forgot this when I was in China and embarrased myself when I didnt bow upon receiving someones’s card. DOH.

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Wow, Lauren, I’m not sure if that makes it easier or more difficult to select a chair in meetings. Inthe US, if we did that, we would have a bunch of people at the same level fighting for chairs. Perhaps we could start every meeting with a game of musical chairs. I do hope to travel to Japan someday and I guess that I would haev a lot of reading to do on customs ahead of time!

    Wine-Oh, the only time I had to use that info was when my car got rear-ended near the airport by a colege professor from China who had just flown in to meet with someone at Microsoft. The was no damage to the car but we did exchange business cards and I remembered how to do it. In your indistry, I suspect that it’s supremely important!

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