Meetings are a necessary, if irritating, aspect of running any effective business. When well-run, meetings can go from being an efficiency and time-suck to the best possible way to make giant leaps forward.
But even if you're doing everything right when planning your meeting -- like creating an agenda, sending it in advance, testing your av equipment and other tips I've shared before -- your co-workers can run off the rails, sabotaging your best laid plans.
As frustrating as it can be when a person runs rough shod over your meeting, don't give up, hide or try to shout them down. Even the most aggressive meeting saboteurs can be handled professionally and brought back into line with a few simple words.
Here are the five most common meeting menaces I've seen, and the foolproof solutions I use to shut them down.
1. The Late-Arriver
Especially when you run larger meetings, you'll undoubtedly encounter the colleague who tends to stroll in five or ten minutes late.
If the person has an important title, you'll probably feel pressured to run your deck back to the title slide, or at the very least, catch them up to speed - to the chagrin of the rest of your attendees.
Here's what you should do instead: nothing. Ignore them and continue on. It's a disservice to the rest of your meeting and disrespectful to everyone there to waste time at the behest of the last person to arrive. Additionally, it could establish a poor precendent for any future meetings.
Start your meetings at their scheduled time, and if somebody misses an important point, they can set a follow-up session with you later. If the person is an important stakeholder in the issue at hand, briefly reassure them that they'll be filled in after the meeting, and keep it moving.
2. The Texter
A culture of 24/7 connectivity has essentially glued our smartphones to our hands. But in almost all cases, your meeting is no place for iMessage.
Nobody wants to see a colleague texting or scrolling through their timeline during a meeting. Set clear ground rules, and do it up front, before the meeting starts by asking everyone to leave their phones at their desks or put them away and on silent.
If someone still insists on texting during your meeting, don't call them out in the moment. It ruins the flow of conversation and distracts from the topics at hand; instead approach them afterwards and politely provide feedback on how their device usage is distracting to others around them.
Your no-device policy may be greeted with skepticism, especially from younger employees, but sometimes it's better to solve a problem before it even starts.
3. The Conversation Hog
There's always a few at every company:the colleague who -- intentionally or unintentionally -- attempts to dominate the conversation and hijack the meeting as their own. A simple solution to this problem, and potentially several others, it to establish a facilitator.
A facilitator keeps the meeting running well, operationally. They'll notice action items in real time, take notes, and keep the meeting's flow in check.
Generally, the host of the meeting tends to fill this role by default. But it's much easier for the host to be present in conversation when operational responsibilities are delegated to somebody else.
If, as the host, you're also thrust into the role of facilitator, politely interject the culprit, thank them for their input and then ask to hear another colleague's opinion.
4. The Drifter
A sign of a good meeting is empowerment, felt among your attendees, to participate and contribute ideas. Sometimes, though, those ideas will steer you away from the meeting's intention.
This is why a parking lot is crucial to every meeting.
When you sense that your meeting is straying too far from the topics at hand, direct your colleagues to the parking lot.
At my company, Arkadium, we use a parking lot - usually just a piece of paper in the center of the table - at every meeting. If we're offering feedback on a game in production, and it suddenly sparks a brand-new game idea, we throw it in the parking lot. At the end of the meeting, we'll revisit our parking lot and assign a later date to give the new idea its own dedicated discussion. It's a great way of letting your employees feel heard while also staying on track.