How to keep your meetings on track?
How to keep your meetings on track?
In May 2012 there was an article in the Wall Street Journal called, “Meet the Meeting Killers.” In the article the columnist described four types of people that ruin effective meetings; “The Jokester”, “The Dominator”, “The Naysayer” and “The Rambler”. Anyone who has run meetings knows about these types of behaviors and how destructive they are to effective meetings. Another very common type of meeting killer in today’s gadget-filled world is “The Multitasker”, the one who is constantly texting, surfing and doing email during the meeting. There is a lot of management guidance on how to manage these destructive meeting behaviors; Manager Tools provide a full podcast series with practical advice on how to manage each one of these meeting killers. In this article, I wanted to give you a quick summary of what you can do to increase the likelihood of keeping your meetings on track.
1. Set meeting ground rules
The foundation for keeping your meetings on track is to set ground rules. You can read the ground rules that I follow for my meetings, in the blog article “Running Effective Meetings”. The two most important rules to keep your meetings on track are to start and finish on time and to follow a pre-published agenda. If you can stick to these two ground rules you have come a long way. Another important rule, especially if you tend to have a lot of “Ramblers” in your meetings, is to have a meeting “parking lot”. The parking lot is for topics that are of interest, but that is not on the agenda and thus they need to be parked and the discussion continued at another time.
2. Share the ground rules and get buy-in
For the ground rules to be effective everybody needs to know about them and commit to them. If you are running a recurring meeting where all the meeting participants know about the meeting rules, you can just quickly remind them that the rules apply and ask them if they agree to them. If you have new people attending the meeting, or if you are running the meeting for the first time, make sure you walk through each rule. You can also have a list of the ground rules on a flip chart or pin them up on a wall somewhere so that they are visible to everyone throughout the meeting.
3. Enforce the ground rules (when appropriate)
If someone starts rambling and goes on and on about something, kindly refer back to the agenda. You can say something like, “We have 5 more minutes allocated for this agenda item so let’s make it brief”. Or, if someone is rambling off topic, you can say, “That’s an important point but we need to park it since we don’t have time allocated for that discussion in today’s meeting”. If someone is texting on their mobile or checking email, refer back to the point about being respectful to others and being present in the meeting. It is your responsibility as the meeting facilitator to keep the meeting on track, even if this means that you have to interrupt people.
However, for your own career’s sake, you should consider the seniority of the disruptive meeting participant before you interrupt him or her. If it’s your boss or someone who is more senior than you, that you don’t have a good relationship with, who is being disruptive, it might not be wise to interrupt. Depending on the situation you need to decide which is more important, running an effective meeting or risk annoying someone that might be important for your career progression.
4. If needed – strengthen the ground rules
If you know beforehand that the meeting participants have certain tendencies that jeopardize the efficiency of the meeting you might need to strengthen or add to your ground rules. So for instance, if you know that the meeting attendees are typical “Multitaskers” clearly state a ground rule that says, “No devices during meetings”. In one of their podcasts, Manager Tools recommend introducing something called “The Fruit Bowl”. You put a bowl in the middle of the table and when the meeting starts all meeting attendees are asked to silence their devices and put them in the bowl.
If you know that you have nay-sayers in the meeting you might want to add a rule that says, “A time and place for problems and solutions”. It’s ok to discuss problems, risks, issues and potential pitfalls during the meeting, but you need to make sure that these discussions don’t hijack the meeting. If you have time, embrace the challenges and ask the meeting delegates to come up with solutions. At a certain point in time you will need to decide to move on, and when the decision has been made, make it clear to everyone that there is no more room for raising concerns.
5. Get buy-in before the meeting
In certain circumstances, if one of the nay-sayers is more senior than you, and it’s really important to get that person on board, it might be a good idea to meet that person one on one and get buy-in before the meeting. Listen to the issues/challenges/risks/pitfalls that he or she might bring up and let him or her “vent”. Ask about possible solutions and recommendations for alleviating the problem.
6. Individual follow up after the meeting
Giving someone feedback or asking someone to change their behavior is not something you should do during the meeting. But to minimize the risk of it happening again, you can follow up with the person individually after the meeting. If it’s one of your subordinates that have made inappropriate jokes, or behaved in another manner that has disrupted the meeting give them feedback (read more about giving feedback in the article, “How to give feedback”). If it’s a peer, then feedback might not be appropriate, but you can still let them know that their behavior isn’t contributing to an effective meeting. After the meeting, as you’re walking out, you can just lean over to the person and say, “Hey, Jane, when you say, even if you meant it as a joke, some might take offense and it makes my job of running an effective meeting a bit harder. I just wanted to let you know!”
Respect cultures but do your thing when you’re in charge
I’m from Sweden, I’ve lived in the United States, I’ve studied in England and I now work in the Middle East. Meeting cultures vary drastically in different parts of the world. I’ll never forget the first meeting I had with the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Labor in the United Arab Emirates when I had just joined Microsoft in Dubai. In order not to offend anyone I had to put my agenda aside and totally forget about starting or finishing on time. You need to respect cultures and different meeting situations. With that said, if you are running a team meeting with your subordinates – no matter what country you’re in or where your employees are from, you are in charge. So if you want to run effective meetings and be sure to stay on track, then go right ahead and follow this guide.
(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here)