Successful meetings in Europe
Breukel,E. Meetings that matter in Europe, CBI News 2006 May/June.* Adapted in 2018
Successful meetings in Europe for global business travelers
While closing the door of the H&B meeting room in Frankfurt, Maria Sanchez from Colombia realizes she had insufficient time to discuss the issues that matter to her. More importantly, she forgot to ask when to expect a final decision on the colors of the new fashion line so production back in Colombia can get started.
A meeting is not only a good occasion to gather information, discuss innovations, present new policies and products, solve problems or make decisions together or in communicating decision made.An effective meeting will take you a few steps further into understanding the activities in which you are involved. When it´s over, you should have a clear mission.
- Applying a format to each meeting you attend will help you make sure that all the key elements are integrated in the process. It will enable you to prepare well.
Here´s a good sequence to follow:
- Minutes of the meeting
- Follow up actions
To make sure the expectations of all participants are met, you can ask the chairperson to circulate an initial agenda well before the meeting takes place. The chairperson may ask participants to add topics they feel are important.
If you are a result-oriented business person, set a personal goal for each meeting or appointment, even if you are not presiding the meeting. Make sure that sufficient information on the items you and other participants want to discuss is distributed to all participants. This along with the final agenda so that everyone can come prepared. Follow up with the person organizing the meeting to make sure the material was distributed successfully. All this can be done virtually. In case you have never been to the country or city where the meeting will be held make sure that you consider the local traffic (jams) in order to be on time. Do some research on the people who will be present. Decide how many minutes you want to present and how many minutes you need for questions & answers. Make a list with questions for yourself and go beforehand through a variety of answers to these questions, so you are well prepared once you are on location.
In the Southern and South Eastern regions of the European Union the agenda is often taken as a loose guideline. There is room for new topics to arise on the spot. A speaker might talk at length about an issue unrelated to items on the agenda. If you’re attending a meeting in these regions, make sure that the chairperson gives you enough time to cover the points you want to address. In other parts of Europe, the agenda is followed more rigorously. Here it may be difficult to insert a new topic during the meeting, so make sure all the items you want to discuss are included in the agenda.
Make sure your goals are aligned with the goals of the meeting and the organization. Focus on what you want, give clear outlines on how your wishes might be conducted or implemented, provide time limits and a budget if necessary. Be specific. Know what you´re talking about and have your fact sheet at hand. In Northern and Western Europe, you should start setting forth your goal or subject right away: be direct and do not waste time. In Southern and Eastern Europe, you may take a bit more time for your introduction and give more detailed information.
Usually the chairperson will open the meeting, communicate the agenda and guard the process of the meeting. At the end he will close the meeting. Know in advance when it will be your turn to present your topic. Be aware of the organizational culture you are in, as it may affect what your meeting partners consider professional and tell you how flexible or structured their business is. At the conclusion of the meeting you should be alert to make sure your wishes and suggestions have been set forth clearly. Ask the right questions to make your meeting successful. In many organizations the chairman asks each of the participants, before closing the meeting, if they have anything to add to what has been sad.
Your follow-up work will be different after each meeting, but follow-up essentially means ´doing what you promised to do’. This may vary from sending materials, charts or figures, to drawing up a contract or making phone calls. Usually this is noted in the Minutes of the Meeting. Thank the people you worked with by e-mail or phone and keep in touch with them. For people from Northern and Western Europe, keeping in touch means calling or e-mailing only when you have a good reason. In other parts of Europe, you may give a call every once in a while, or send an e-mail just to ask how your partner is doing.
Although the elements of a meeting are more or less the same all over the world, the way in which a meeting is conducted can vary from one region to another. In Spain (Southern Europe) the chairperson usually leads the meeting with some authority, whereas in Denmark (Northern Europe) the chairperson ‘facilitates’ the meeting in a more egalitarian way. However, the chairperson has the right to suspend a meeting when specific situations arise during the meeting. In Germany (Western Europe) a meeting is highly time-oriented, whereas in Hungary (Eastern Europe) the meeting may be extended if the subject is important to those involved. In Northern Europe a meeting is usually held to collect information and once everyone has voiced his or her opinion a decision will be made at the meeting table. In other parts of Europe opinions are often gathered during informal, one-on-one meetings which take place long before the actual meeting: the decisions are made at the top and communicated during the actual meeting.
People from different regions in Europe have different ways of communicating. Among North and Northwest Europeans disagreements, regardless of hierarchical differences, are acceptable and considered a sign of openness and honesty.
Meetings may take the form of brainstorming sessions. If an opinion that has been voiced is relevant to you, you can use it when it is your turn. In this way you create solidarity with the other participants.
Asking questions is usually perceived as a way of being involved in the topic and is a good way to make sure you have understood people’s comments. In the Southern and Eastern European regions speakers tend to expatiate on topics. Personal opinions are not as important as facts and people may not always be prepared to argue or disagree in the presence of a superior. Asking questions may be seen as loss of face.
© Eleonore Breukel www.intercultural.nl firstname.lastname@example.org
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