What would you say if you are told, that where a person sits at the board meeting table can tell if you are a boss or leader, point man or skeptic, sideliner, supporter or latecomer?
Almost to the surprise to many people, there are different configuration of seating arrangements for meetings, and those different seating configurations can influence positively or negatively the outcomes of those meetings.
In today’s business world, there are two configurations that are typically used.
This is most common board meeting configuration. The boss sits at the head of the table, usually in a manner that views the entire room and in such a way that any latecomers will be seen. His chair is larger than the other chairs, and other people are mostly along the two sides of the table, some on his right, some on his left, and rarely, someone on the opposite end of the table.
His position at the head of the table emphasizes his power and domination. Even though that may not be his intention, a table configuration where he sits like this automatically portrays his views as being dominant, and other people’s views as being secondary. In human resource and management studies, this is called “The Power Position.” The boss is merely in this position, to ear his views more, and other people, specifically further away from the Power Position; will less likely to be involved in the meeting, or to share their views.
Most commonly, the personality of the boss is predominantly yellow or red. In non-profit and religions organizations, the leader can also be predominantly green.
The Cooperative Position: The cooperative person sits to the immediate right of the Boss. He/she is almost always in support of the boss. In the organization, this person is accustomed to carrying out the instructions of the boss without question. His job is to obey, and not to question. Whether an instruction is right or wrong, praiseworthy or damaging, he concurs. In meetings setup configurations, he/she sits to the right of the boss, and will usually be seen nodding his/her head in agreement with the boss’s views, many times even before the boss has finished speaking, or the point has been made. In rather less cordial business setups, the person who adopts the cooperative position are often referred to as “point man.”
The cooperative person is more interested in the boss, his notes, and things to do than the other people in the room. His/her personality more often reflects traits of the introverted orange type.
The person, who sits opposite to the boss, is typically the combative person. He opposes the boss’s views, and most times recalls his own experience to show why the prevailing views are incorrect, wrong, and will do no good to the organization if implemented. In board meeting scenes, it’s almost like a “square off” between two heavy weights. His tone will be harsh, body language combative, and will make excuses to leave early in the meeting. His exit sends a strong non verbal message. The meeting is wasting his time.
The person, who occupies the seat of the competitive person, can sometimes be called the “Alter Leader.” The Alter leader is the second most dominant person in the room, and sometimes, with a supportive alter leader, the two leaders can support each other, with the alter leader asking probing questions, and coming up with better solutions to company problems. Alter leaders can be either supportive, or defiant.
Personality tests of the alter leaders; will tend to show a dominant red, with a lesser amount of the yellow personality. The placement of two dominant yellow or red personalities in one room to discuss ideas is not recommended by present day trainers and human resource personnel. The two in one room is a sure way to kill good ideas and progress.
To the immediate left of the boss, sits the person who in proactive, agrees with the boss and voices his/her agreeing opinion, however, their opinion is often followed by a “Ya…but” and an opposing view or other idea is introduced. Next to the boss, this is the next vocal supportive voice in the board meeting, with the occasional idea or non-supportive view.
This supportive voice tends to be either predominantly green or orange personality. People who sit closer to the leader will tend to support him, and vice versa.
Those individuals who occupy the middle of the table on either side, are typically extroverts from the various personality types. Often they may tend to mediate between the two sides of the board meetings. These middle table locations are less likely to be biased in favor of the boss, and, if there is a competitive person at the other end, they are just as unlikely to support him either.
Sideliners are typically introverts from the various personality types who sit as far from the boss as possible (and finds himself inadvertently next to the alter leader). He is on the other side of the table from the boss, and usually will not speak first. After opinions have been expressed, then he will offer his views. His ideas will be the best of his abilities, and he cares little to support the leader or the alter leader .He says things as he sees it.
People’s tendencies and biases will be affected by the way they are placed at a board meeting table and proximities to others will affect, in one way or the other, the outcomes of any discussions.
Recent research into the dynamics of seating configurations in board meetings and the effect on its members, decisions made and overall efficiency of the meeting process has moved away from the rectangular table configuration. The replacement, based upon recent human resource and management research, is now called the “Round Table Discussions.”
Internationally, this is practiced by some of the world’s largest countries, universities and organizations. The terms “round table meeting on climate change” is well known. The breakout sessions rooms in North American universities are all typically a round table setup. The round table configuration does not distinguish between any participants, and there is no larger, easily distinguishable awe inspiring chair for the “boss.”
The decision to have a round table discussion rather than normal board meeting is the call of the leader. While the traditional methods inadvertently impose the will and ideas of the boss, the leader is open to suggestions and ideas from every person at the table. In his mind, every idea must be accommodated, and every person must be shown respect. In his mind, he is coordinating a discussion and not having a meeting. Without this mindset, there will be no round table discussions.
Bosses who graduate to the level of a leader are typically those who take time to continuously attend business seminars or keep up to date with recent management research through periodicals, business magazines, and research papers. Round Table Discussions are obtained by deliberate thought, whilst the normal rectangular board meetings tend to be default of those who have not been exposed to the new concepts.
In the round table discussions, everyone has a sense of belonging. There is no end of the table for the competitive and the sideliners; there are no sides of the tables for extroverts. Everyone has an equal say, and the non-distinguishable chair configuration of the leader emphasizes this fact.
It’s less likely to disagree with someone who is sitting next to you, than someone who is sitting across the table. Thus, tensions tend to lessen with this new configuration, and there are more open ideas, especially from the introverts.
Research still indicates that there is a general bias against considering a woman as a leader. In her studies on gender issues in the workplace, Carol Goman from Troy Media documents the negative responses to the assertive female, when she voiced her opinion. Dore Butler and Florence Geis from the University of Delaware, from their research, found that this negativity comes from both male and female group members.
In the round table discussions, where there is an emphasis on the equality of opinions, and where there are no table sides and back seats for the lesser important, the ideas and opinions of women are given an equal opportunity to be heard and respected.
Similarly, the introverted, who usually occupies the further distance from the leader, are trust forward, as there is no special seat for the leader. He/she can occupy any seat on the table.
Organizations that keep up to date with new management techniques have moved away from the concept of the rectangular board meeting configurations, and ever increasingly, the round table management structure is being adopted.
This is better suited for openness, ideas sharing and respect of all at the table, without any bias in relation to sex, religion, race or other distinguishing factors.
However, the main aspect for the success of the round table management structure is the willingness of the boss to show humbleness, and to step up from the position of a boss, and to become a leader.