Office Politics: What Happens At the Meeting After the Meeting

by Sharlyn Lauby on April 26, 2012

Yes, it’s true. The meeting after the meeting does exist. It’s not an urban legend.

In fact, the meeting after the meeting (or let’s call it the MATM for short) can actually be more important than the original meeting. Many people think it’s really a big gripe session about the meeting. But a true MATM is very important – it often provides insight into the people and discussions that you can’t get during the meeting itself.

meeting, meetings, leadership, discussion, conversation, office politics, business, career

And as a business pro, you want to be included in the MATM. Here are a few dynamics to watch for:

The Purpose. Typically, the MATM is part venting and part strategy. Usually, people are frustrated about something that happened at the meeting (the venting part) and the conversation turns toward brainstorming ways to fix the situation (the strategy party). A MATM of only griping? Well that’s just a gripe session. And a meeting where you discuss strategies to fix something…that’s called a “real” meeting.

The Attendees. From an office politics perspective, these folks are the players where this particular matter is concerned. The players can change from issue to issue. Also, try to notice who initiates the MATM. Figure out if they are the person who ultimately is accountable for this issue (and it appears they’re soliciting feedback) OR are they trying to influence the person who is ultimately accountable?

The Location. Often, but not always, the MATM takes a more casual tone. So it might be a mid-morning coffee run, lunch or drinks after work. I’ve seen a lot of people shrug off the MATM because it looked social. That was unfortunate because they didn’t recognize the signs. I’ve also seen organizers of the MATM intentionally choose a venue knowing certain people wouldn’t attend.

This one is a toughie. I can’t tell you the right decision. I can say don’t be naive and believe business only happens in office buildings and boardrooms. It happens everywhere – on golf courses, playing Words with Friends, at coffee shops and during happy hour.

The Discussion. I mentioned earlier that the MATM can often be a gripe session. If you’re at a MATM, listen carefully to the complaints. Try to understand the frustrations and also why that frustration may or may not have been addressed during the meeting.

The other conversation that happens during a MATM is strategy. What people plan to do next as a result of the meeting. This can offer valuable insight into what happens behind the scenes in the organization. It can also tell you a lot about the individuals involved and their comfort zones, spheres of influence and workplace power.

The Commitment. There’s an over-quoted line from the movie “Fight Club” – “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.” Same goes here. What people share in the MATM must be respected. People let their guard down in the MATM. They talk about what challenges them and they might share something they plan to do. Unless your role is to go forewarn someone, then you have to #KnowTheCode of meetings after meetings.

Instead of trying to eradicate the meeting after the meeting, figure out if you can play a positive role in them. I’ve often found that, when I was being invited to the MATM, it was to be a sounding board or ask a tough question. Bottom line, you can’t help unless you build the reputation and relationships necessary to get a seat at the meeting after the meeting.

Image courtesy of Robert Smith

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PM Hut April 26, 2012 at 10:55 am

Hi Sharlyn,

I think that MATM is an extra overhead – but it’s an excellent concept though. However, do you suggest having MATMs after EVERY meeting? Isn’t it better to have them only on-demand?
PM Hut recently posted..Happy Standardization

Sharlyn Lauby April 27, 2012 at 11:36 am

@PM Hut – Thanks for the comment. In my experience, I’ve found the MATM doesn’t happen after every meeting. Only the ones where either 1) something unexpected occurred – could be good or bad OR 2) someone brought up a point that needs further discussion outside of the entire group.

RMSmithJr.SPHR April 28, 2012 at 6:41 am

In my experience, MATM is the third meeting in the process. I typically conduct pre-meetings with the power brokers to review the agenda and see what there thought processes may be, and then align & adjust the content so we are on the same agenda.

MATMs are just as vital by serving as informal after action reviews. Even my own talent of Deliberativeness usually reveals the best idea will come tomorrow.

Case in point, I held all-hands safety briefings and meetings this past week. My concern was the resurgence of minor eye incidents. The multiple MATMs have allowed all to engage in identifying specific improvement opportunities and create a safer workplace. Together, we determined that the new face shields were 1.5″ shorter than before, and that most likely made all the difference.
RMSmithJr.SPHR recently posted..From The Cradle To The Grave

debbiejbrown April 28, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Excellent post Sharon- new leaders need to be sensitized to this fact of life- and not be intimidated nor frustrated by this dynamic.

Sam Lumoindong April 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Sharlyn:

I’ve never heard the MATM before but it happens either intentionally or unintentionally (usually on the way back to the office in the car when you car pool). I appreciate that and like you said could be a gripe session or a real meeting depending who drives the conversation. Thanks again!

Sam

Sharlyn Lauby April 29, 2012 at 10:18 am

Thanks so much for the comments! Sam brings up another common spot for the MATM – the office parking lot!

And Robert, I agree…the meeting before the meeting is important. Maybe we should call that one the MBTM – LOL!

Michael Brisciana May 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

Sharlyn – - –

Outstanding and insightful! I think you’ve absolutely nailed it. And I loved the follow-up comments re: the Meeting Before The Meeting — which is an essential part of setting up the meeting for success.

One cautionary note … my experience is that where MATM happens after each and every meeting, it can be a sign of a dysfunctional or toxic culture (i.e., where ‘elephants in the room’ can never be discussed, or where there are entrenched ‘sides’ or ‘camps’ regardless of the issue, etc.). In these cases, MATM is ordinarily limited to the gripe sessions that you described.

Thanks again for a brilliant description of organizational reality.

Michael
Michael Brisciana recently posted..Good HR vs. Bad HR

Sharlyn Lauby May 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thanks for the comment Michael. I agree…after you attend enough MATMs, you can see trends that will tell you a lot about the organization and team dynamics.

Adrian Gheorghe May 3, 2012 at 2:29 am

Great article. MATM exist in real life, but it’s the first time I see something written about it.
Congratulations!

Sharlyn Lauby May 4, 2012 at 8:59 am

Thanks Adrian!

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