WHEN GOOD MEETINGS GO BAD!
All meetings start with the best of intentions. No-one shows up to a meeting with the intent of wasting their time or the time of their colleagues. No-one shows up wanting to lose their temper, to become disengaged or frustrated but it happens. When meetings get off track there are usually warning signs that instead of heeding we ignore and plow on through. It seems tough to step in front of a derailed meeting but it will save time and energy in the long run to take positive action in the moment.
- Debate devolves into disagreement and rhetoric escalates
- Your emotions are increasingly negative
- The purpose for which you attended the meeting changes
- You “know” with certainty this isn’t going to finish with you achieving your goals for the meeting
- You exempt yourself from the meeting. “I’m done.”
- You find yourself avoiding meetings and interactions with certain people
- You energy level and passion begin to wane
- You know that there are underlying issues in the meeting not being addressed but which are driving personal agendas
- The meeting has devolved to dealing with a level of detail and minutia that doesn’t contribute to achieving the desired outcome of the meeting.
Situations and Actions
During the course of a meeting that gets off track there are a number of common situations that occur that if dealt with can get the meeting back on track and minimize the waste of time and resources. Warning Signs show up generally as a result of one of the following situations occurring. To keep the conversation moving forward and creating value in most situations it is simply a matter of asking the right question. Plan to ask these questions when the following situations arise.
SITUATION – we keep talking about issues and problems but no solutions are in sight.
ACTION – call what you see. Ask, “What are we trying to solve for?” Put a time frame on further discussion. Call for the question. If still not resolved revisit the purpose of meeting.
SITUATION – persistent objection without offering solutions.
ACTION – “I understand that you disagree. What would you support?”
SITUATION – deep into minutia
ACTION – “What are we trying to solve for with this conversation? Are we dealing with the right issue?”
SITUATION – confused about how we reach a conclusion.
ACTION – “What do you need from me? Here’s what I know I need from you.”
SITUATION – a group member is demonstrating visible emotion.
ACTION – “What do you see as a problem? What do you think we are missing here?”
There are some situations that require action and discussion beyond a simple question. Here is how you might agree to deal with those.
SITUATION – junior/subordinate members of the team, guests, client groups or clients are present.
ACTION – “We seem to be getting off-track. Let’s take a break and regroup in 10 minutes.” Key members of the management team stay and decide what to do. When the group returns in 10 minutes the meeting will generally be rescheduled.
SITUATION – it becomes clear that not all participants are up-to-speed and are asking questions that is dramatically slowing down the meeting or causing the purpose of the meeting to shift.
ACTION – call what you see. Ask if the concerns can be handled off-line. If not, reschedule the topic at a time after the bases have been covered. Once it is called allow 5 minutes tops. If agreement hasn’t been reached and you are not back on the agenda, call it again.
SITUATION – the agenda is high jacked because the topic is more complex than anticipated.
ACTION – offer up where you think there is agreement and ring-fence what is left.