Meetings are not the easiest things in the world to lead and to manage. Depending on the meeting, some of the group or team wish to be there and value the opportunity, whilst others perceive it to be a waste of time. Even after significant time is invested by you in creating meetings where participants and more involved and engaged, the response is not what you would ideally like.
On top of this, meetings usually result in more work for those involved. Meetings are about decisions, picking up on areas where improvement is needed or supporting new initiatives and consolidating others. Subsequently, people can act out and, all of a sudden, a meeting goes of course and you struggle to get things back on track. If this has happened to you, it is most likely that you have been the victim of a meeting hijack.
Meeting hijacks are not always intentional. Most of my experience suggests that certain conditions usually trigger a meeting hijack such as not enough support for items and actions raised in the meeting. Most frequently, from what I have observed, meeting hijacks can occur when participants in the meeting feel that their needs are not being met. As a result, they begin to force their point of view on the meeting, usually bringing up matters unrelated to the agenda items as things spiral out of control.
So how do you prevent the meeting hijack? Here are three suggestions:
- Plan your agenda carefully and lay down meeting protocols. A carefully planned agenda shows that you are organised. You can anticipate some of the responses to the items, so that you are able to deal with negative reactions and keep things focused on the matters at hand. Protocols allow for roles and responsibilities to be given. Perhaps a more vocal member of the team can be asked to take the minutes, so that they are more focused on listening rather than pushing their own agenda. With the agenda, state what you would like to achieve by the end of the meeting and refer everyone back to these intentions if you find the team going off on a tangent.
- Take individual concerns offline. When group members begin to sidetrack the meeting, stop them by giving them the opportunity to discuss the matter with you afterwards or at a later time. This allows you to address individual concerns separately, whilst allowing the team to be spared from wasting valuable time. If you choose to do this, make sure that you follow-through with the conversation.
- Encourage participation. Allow members of the team to suggest items for the agenda, however, ensure that they prepare for these items well in advance and, especially, challenge them to bring solutions to problems that they wish to discuss. I find that most of the more difficult members of the team will not take you up on the offer, as this is too much like hard work. You can, however, always come back to the fact they you gave them every opportunity to have input and ownership of the agenda. As is often said, the dogs with the loudest bark are not always the smartest dogs.
Remember, your ability to run effective meetings is a key part of being a good leader. It is a public demonstration of how you handle some of the most difficult aspects of leadership.