Keeping meetings on track

To get everyone to cooperate, walk around the room and have the class — er, employees — be involved with setting the rules.

Running a meeting is a lot like running a kindergarten classroom. If given the chance, people will play with their toys, talk out of turn, bully each other and whine about everything from the e-mail system to the break room coffee.

Fortunately, just like cranky children, your co-workers can be easily controlled and placated. We checked in with Dana Brownlee, founder of national corporate training company Professionalism Matters, for how to lead a successful, succinct and drama-free meeting.

Here are her troubleshooting tips.

The problem: One employee dominates the talk time.
The fix:
“Instead of just throwing the issue out there, ask people to take two or three minutes and jot down their top two suggestions. That way, even if somebody dominates, when you collect those notes, you get feedback from everybody in the room,” Brownlee advises.

The problem: You have a persistently negative employee.
The fix: Agree that there may, indeed, be an issue. This will stop a problem child right in his or her tracks. “Validate their concern, write it on the flip-chart and ask them to come up with suggestions for fixing the problem,” she says.

The problem: One co-worker always veers off-topic.
The fix: “As a facilitator, step in and ask if this is something that needs to be addressed today,” says Brownlee. “It sounds obvious, but there’s a huge difference between intervening with a statement or intervening with a question. When someone asks you as opposed to telling you, it comes across very differently.”

The problem: Everyone brought their iPhones.
The fix: First, structure the meeting thoughtfully — if some departments have to wait 45 minutes to be addressed, they’ll be tempted to space out and check their mail. After that, play teacher. “Walk around a lot and constantly call on people by name,” Brownlee suggests. “If people know they’ll be called on, it makes them perk up.”

Set your rules

Chances are, everyone can agree that staying positive and turning off phones is productive. If you meet frequently with a group, set some ground rules and ask for everyone’s input. “The key is to let the group come up with them,” Brownlee says. “Then it’s so much easier for you to enforce it.”


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