a group of professionals meeting
Photos by Getty Images

Keep Your Meetings Under Control

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I try to manage meetings so they are as productive as possible. Lately, I seem to be losing control. A couple of people on my team dominate every meeting and argue over the smallest details. What can I do to regain control?

A: I'm sorry to say that your meetings sound a lot like many I've sat through in my life. It appears that no matter the organization, team, or board, there are always a couple of people who like hogging the limelight.

It takes a strong facilitator to keep meetings on track, and it takes time and patience to develop the skills necessary to run a meeting that meets everyone's expectations.

Since the people you mention report to you, you can speak to them individually to share your concerns about their behavior in meetings. Have your counseling session as soon as possible after a meeting so you can be specific about the behavior that's having a negative impact on the rest of the team. Clarify your expecations for improvement: that they are to keep to the agenda and address their disagreements outside of team meetings, when possible. But you don't want to discourage active participation in your meetings, so this is a bit of a balancing act.

It takes a strong facilitator to keep meetings on track, and it takes time and patience to develop the skills necessary to run a meeting that meets everyone's expectations.

I can think of two easy ways to keep discussions on track. One is to allocate time for each agenda item and appoint a timekeeper to let you know when the time is up for that topic. If you've done a good job of estimating how long each discussion should take, using a timekeeper can keep your meeting moving at the right pace.

The second idea is to use a flip chart or whiteboard as your "parking lot." When topics come up that are not on the agenda or that need more research or discussion, put them in the parking lot to revisit later. Don't forget about them—you may want to assign follow-up tasks to your team members before you leave the meeting, or you can add these items to the agenda for your next meeting.

If these one-on-one counseling and time-saving ideas don't resolve your issue, you may need to discipline the people involved until they get the message that staff meetings aren't all about them.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

Learn More

Register for ASAE's upcoming learning program "Facilitation Essentials: Effectively Managing Conversations" to get deeper insight on how to make your meeting, retreat, or planning session conversations productive and worthwhile.

Performance Management