I’m often invited (and honored) to observe other organization’s meetings. For instance, in South Africa recently, my friend Alan Platt invited Kathleen and I to observe a meeting of church and ministry leaders from 50 countries, who were planning Movement Day, the goal of which is to catalyze leadership teams from the world’s largest cities. In a major event in October 2015, they’re planning an intensive week, learning how to serve their cities more effectively by advancing high-level, city-changing partnerships. In essence, they were planning workshop tracks, themes, and other issues for the event in New York City. Sitting through that experience reminded me of how people should act and respond when invited to meetings that don’t directly involve them. Here’s a few thoughts:
1) It’s not your meeting, so step back. You should be honored that you were invited, so observe first.
2) In the case of my South Africa meeting, I learned that the event has been in the planning stages for more than three years. Many of the leaders in the room had been working online together for a year, and the meeting I observed was the end of a week of hard, collaborative work. So even though I felt I had ideas to contribute, it would be enormous hubris to assume I had some “revelation” that they hadn’t thought of in the last three years. My one hour of experience with the issue was enough to keep me quiet in the presence of their previous three years of work.
3) It’s always better to practice discernment when you’re in a group you’re unfamiliar with. In my case, I didn’t immediately know their theological perspective, experience planning events like this, or the identity or background of everyone at the table. Speaking too soon – even when invited – can be a recipe for disaster.
4) Make notes. If you do feel that you can contribute, or see mistakes being made, talk about it privately with whoever invited you to the meeting. Remember, those in the meeting don’t know you, haven’t developed a trust relationship with you, and have no idea of what you may bring to the table. So respect their investment, and rather than interrupt or blurt out something to the group, mention it privately to a colleague who can vet your ideas appropriately – then decide whether or not to share with the larger group.
The higher you go in your career, the more opportunities you’ll have to observe important and strategic meetings. These meetings will open your mind to amazing opportunities, introduce you to world changers, and give you new perspectives on your future. So take the humble route.
Honoring those at the table, and holding your contributions until appropriate, will be a critical step in being invited to the next one.