Dealing with Disorderly Meetings
Have an Agenda and Make It Known
Meetings without a clear purpose or a clearly communicated purpose are more susceptible to disruptions. It follows then that one way to handle disruptive behavior in meetings is to set an agenda and ensure that all participants are aware of why the meeting is necessary. It is also good practice to emphasize why certain people have been chosen to be a part of the group. This ensures each participant has a sense of purpose and importance and it also increases the level of preparedness which can only prove to benefit the overall result.
Set Ground Rules
Ground rules are a set of principles that have group approval. If the particular set of people meet often, a brief session can be held to help define what is important for productivity, but this does not mean that groups who meet only once cannot adhere to the same rules. Common meeting rules include the agreement to start on time regardless of who is in attendance. Making it a habit of being prompt and moving ahead with no exceptions helps to reinforce punctuality is of key importance and tardiness will not be tolerated. Another popular rule is to have participants stay on topic. It can be easy to stray from the central theme of the discussion so it is especially important to have someone to point out when the group has moved away from the issues at hand. A gentle reminder to bring the talks back to the agreed agenda is usually enough to regain control.
Try to Avoid Finger Pointing
It can be difficult to resist calling certain individuals out on their bad behavior, especially when they are repeat offenders, but individualizing the problem is usually not in the interest of productivity. When there is finger-pointing there is also a tendency to defend the offending behavior or to deny the action. It is better to avoid this all-together and instead highlight the type of behavior displayed is distracting or unacceptable. This leads to a more adult acceptance of the ruling and can bring about meeting productivity in a shorter time frame.
Identify Problem Participants and Keep Them Busy
In every group natural leaders emerge, but sometimes those dominant personalities tend to act in ways that make the overall meeting go astray. One way to handle this type of problem is to identify the group leaders and then assign them tasks that are useful instead of leaving them idle. Giving the group's main detractor a duty to uphold order for instance, is a clever way to turn a personality that threatens to destroy productivity into someone who is a big part of why others pay attention or make contributions.
Every meeting leader must be able to hold on firmly to the reigns of control or risk letting the items on the agenda slip into oblivion. Many problems can crop up along the way. For instance, one person might dominate the discussion by posing all the questions and making all the comments but this can be tempered by gently suggesting others make contributions as well. Frequent interruptions during presentations can be derailed by asking that all questions and comments be written down and reserved for the end. The opposite case when participants are all silent can be turned around by making it common practice for everyone to write down a comment, observation or question to be shared at the end of the presentation. Icebreakers are another way to help participants relax and open the floor for contributions more on target.
While it may seem difficult to handle disruptive behavior in meetings at first, there are a number of techniques that will help to bring order to a group that has gone astray. Hopefully the tips mentioned above can bring some clarity to the matter and make future business meetings more successful.