You've been asked to lead a new project involving colleagues from different departments. And because you have to get up and running quickly, you need everyone to be on the same page, so team members can swing into action.

But at the very first meeting, you feel like you're herding cats. People have very different views about the topic. They offer a lot of ideas, but those ideas are all over the place. One colleague is trying to take over. Two others seem to have checked out and have their noses in their smartphones.

Twenty minutes in, a sick, sinking feeling comes over you. You think: 'Am I doing something wrong? I am supposed to be leading this effort, but we're not making any progress.'

The bad news is that you may be partially responsible for the debacle, if you didn't create a strong framework ahead of time.

But we'll leave that for another day; you need help right now. Here, then, are five things to do when you realize that a meeting is about to run off the rails:

  1. Call a time out. This is no time to put a brave face on. You need to acknowledge that the meeting isn't working and you're going to correct course.
  2. Re-articulate objectives--both for the meeting and for the project overall. Many times participants spin out of control when they lose sight of what you're trying to accomplish. Bring everyone back and help the team visualize clear goals.
  3. Clarify roles. Remind participants that you own the outcome--that you're responsible for the success of the effort. And they're responsible for . . . whatever you need them to do. Act as subject matter experts? Brainstorm ideas? Raise issues? Now's the time to remind people why they're there.
  4. Change the dynamic. The energy in the room hasn't been productive, so it's time to switch to a different facilitation method. If you've been meeting as a group, try small breakout teams. If you've been presenting, move over to the whiteboard and start generating ideas. By altering the way the meeting is run, you can help people focus.
  5. If all else fails, shake team members' sillies out. It's time to turn to that master of entertainment, Raffi, who knows that sometimes everybody has to get out of their seats and release tension. Here are two effective ways to channel participants' energy:
  • BMW. If the problem is that people are anxious or frustrated, run a quick BMW (bitch, moan and whine) exercise. Give participants sticky notes and let them write as many complaints or concerns about the topic as they can think of. Post all of them up, and agree to address two or three, then let the rest go.
  • Every Crazy Idea. What if there were no constraints and we could solve the problem however we wanted to? Break out into teams of two or three and ask participants to go crazy. When they share their ideas, discuss which elements of these could be applied to practical solutions.

Even if your meeting is in trouble, you can still save it. Stop, breathe and take control.