A reader asks:
I am a department head at a small financial firm. Recently I began hosting weekly meetings for our 25-person business team, which comprises other department heads and their teams. For the first couple of weeks, things were going smoothly, but recently one department head has been hijacking every meeting.
He shows up late and interrupts people's presentations to interject his own thoughts, opinions, and agendas. One of his team members was presenting last week, and he butted in and droned on for several minutes. These are only supposed to be five-minute presentations and are an opportunity for all of our team members to be heard, not just the outspoken department heads. I can see people slumping in their chairs and disengaging every time he pipes up.
To top things off, this week at the end of the meeting while I was dismissing everyone and thanking them for their time and attention, he interrupted me midsentence and stopped everyone from leaving to make an announcement. The announcement was directed toward his team of four and wasn't even relevant to the vast majority of people in the room.
He is my peer, not my subordinate. How do I address this with him? Do I speak to him privately or just shut it down midmeeting? I don't want there to be tension that will make everyone in the meeting uncomfortable, but he is being too disruptive to ignore. These meetings are supposed to be fun and energizing and he is sucking the life out of them.
I would do two things now, and have a third thing in your mind as possible additional step if you still need it.
1. At the start of the next meeting, set some expectations for the whole group about how you want the meetings to operate. Normally I don't recommend talking to the whole group about a problem with just one person, but in this case the group is likely to appreciate what you're doing -- and really, it's a useful thing to do with any new or new-ish group anyway. For example, you might lay out guidelines like:
* "We're going to start promptly on time, so if you do need to be late, please come in quietly since discussions may already be underway."
* "I want to ask that people not interrupt other people's presentations, and hold any questions until the end."
* I want to make sure we're sharing air time across the group -- if you've spoken a lot lately, give others a chance to weigh in."
2. Be assertive about managing the meeting while it's going on. This is your meeting, and it's totally appropriate for you to do this -- in fact, it's your obligation to do this, as it's part of what it means to run a meeting well. Specifically:
* Don't delay the meeting because he's late. Wait a minute or two past the start time and then start. If he arrives late, don't backtrack to repeat for him what's already been covered--that's just rewarding his bad behavior and wasting the time of the people who arrived on time.
* If he interrupts a presentation, you interrupt him and say, "Actually, let's hold questions for the end so that Fergus can have his full five minutes to present."
* If he's droning on, jump in and say something like, "I'm going to jump in here because I want to make sure we have time to get through the whole agenda" or "Let's actually table that for now so that we don't get too far off Topic X."
* If he does any more end-of-meeting announcements that are only for his team of four, say, "I don't think we need to keep the whole room for this, so everyone else can adjourn."
Also, at the start of each meeting, be clear about the agenda and how much time you've allotted for each part ("I've set aside 15 minutes to talk about our new llama-gram initiative and then Valentina, Bob, and Hercules are each going to present for five minutes on various elements of it. We'll have 10 minutes for questions and will wrap up at 1:45." This will give your co-worker even less excuse for derailing things, and if he does, it'll be even easier for you to use some of the lines above.
Doing this is not rude. Not doing it would actually be rude to the other people there, because this guy is infringing on everyone's time, and you're the person charged with making the meeting go smoothly. I can guarantee you that other people are looking to you to do this, are hoping that you will, and will be frustrated if you don't. (In fact, it might help you to look at this stuff as not optional; it's part of your job as the person running the meetings.)
3. If you do the things above and the problem is continuing, then you need to talk with your co-worker privately outside of the meeting. You could say something like, "I want to ensure these meetings have relatively equal air time for everyone [or insert whatever your goal is]. I know you have input to share, but I want to ask you hold most of your thoughts and questions until the end if there's time left, because I need to make sure that others are heard too and that we don't get too far off our agenda."
But really, by doing numbers 1 and 2 above, you might not need number 3 at all.
Also, your colleague is a boor.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to email@example.com.