How can project managers keep meetings on track?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 By Jack Nevison

It's hard enough to keep meetings on track, especially when there are a large number of participants. Even in a meeting with only one topic, it quickly becomes apparent that everyone has different questions and unrelated points to make.

Most of the time, these distractions and diversions will be evenly distributed among your team members. But many project managers have had to deal with a particular team member who just can't stay on topic and constantly drags the discussion into irrelevant areas. The result? Hours of lost time, and planning sessions that confuse rather than clarify.

How are managers supposed to deal with someone like this?

The easy answer is, of course, to fire that team member. But such a solution might seriously harm the project. This person is likely on the team because the project needs the special skill he or she possesses. Managers need to take a different tack.

A recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog suggests a few tactics for bringing a meeting back to where it needs to be.

First, it's important to reach a consensus.

"Team members can't be off-track if the team hasn't agreed about what track it's on," the post read. "If your team doesn't explicitly agree on the purpose and topic for each part of the meeting, then team members will use their understanding to decide what is on-track."

Once a consensus has been reached, it is then possible to challenge a rogue team member's efforts to derail the meeting. Managers can ask pointed questions, forcing the team member to explain why he or she has chosen a particular topic of discussion.

Sometimes, these topics will, in fact, be legitimate. In such instances, managers should always check with the other members of the team to make sure that they agree that the new topic is worth pursuing. Otherwise, off-topic behavior can spread to the rest of the team.

New Leaf offers a number of white papers for project managers who want to improve their skills. In "How Not to Run a Meeting," the author takes a satirical look at the best ways to have the worst meetings ever. As with all New Leaf white papers, after you have read it, you can test your learning with a quiz and earn PDU credits for your PMP recertification.

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"QPM™" is a registered mark of New Leaf Project Management. All rights reserved.

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