We've all been there. You start the meeting off with an innocent ice-breaker about the weather, and before you know it, the conversation is spiraling out of control as one sidebar comment fuels another.
If you can't pull everyone back on track and redirect the conversation quickly, you'll end up rescheduling the meeting that you already didn't have time for in the first place.
Don't get me wrong, it's important to build rapport and connect with fellow teammates, but you have to set limits. Every minute you waste in a meeting not only kills productivity at the moment, but it also eats into time that you could have been working on individual projects. If you start bad habits, then meetings will become more of a hassle than they are worth.
Havard Business Review surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries: 65 percent said meetings keep them from completing their own work. 71 percent said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. 64 percent said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
It's safe to say that it's becoming a problem.
Here are three tips to ensure meetings stay on track and productive.
1. Come with an agenda.
No, but seriously. Make and print an agenda for everyone in the meeting. In my experience, when there's no agenda to use as a guidepost, the meeting can quickly fly off the rails as people fill the schedule with their own priorities.
Having a plan in front of you acts as a crutch to pull the meeting back on track should you need to. It also allows you to blame time and stop any irrelevant conversations from happening.
My meetings are famous for sidebars--I'm a sucker for weekend stories and pictures of everyone's kids doing cute things (mainly because I have two of my own). But we can easily lose sight of our goal. An agenda keeps me honest and lets everyone know what we need to accomplish.
2. Interrupt politely.
Sometimes there's no way around it. You need to interrupt and redirect the conversation. If you can find a segue to pivot that's great, but more than likely, you'll need to interject and remind everyone that there's an agenda.
The strategy that works best for me in these situations is altruism. It sounds like this, "Hey, everyone, to ensure that I don't waste your time, and we don't have to reschedule this meeting, let's get back to the agenda."
People will appreciate the concern, and they'll be more than willing to refocus.
3. Be fashionably late.
By late, I mean the last one in the room (as long as you don't have to queue up a presentation). It gives members time to converse, and it's an easy way for you to interrupt the discussion to share your agenda and goals for the meeting.
"Sorry everyone, I'm running a little behind. I promise that we'll still finish on time, though. Let's get straight to why I called you all here."
Being last seems counterintuitive, but it helps you establish a sense of urgency that will keep the meeting running efficiently.
It's important to establish an environment where everyone feels comfortable with each other. However, building rapport shouldn't come at the expense of productivity. People will respect you for running a tight ship.