Management Success Tip #104: Consider Off-Topic Employee Comments Without Tanking Your Meeting Agenda

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Sometimes, despite your best efforts at letting your team know ahead of time the meeting agenda and critical items to be discussed, inevitably, during the meeting a team member will bring up an issue or concern totally off topic.

Your initial impulse may very well be to squash the comment and move right along with the current agenda. However, do that enough, and you’ll have a number of unhappy, frustrated, employees who will eventually disengage from the team or project.

Instead, acknowledge your employee as suggested by Roger Schwarz:

“If the team has agreed on the topic to discuss and you still think that someone is off-track, say something like, “Lee, Iʼm not seeing how your point about outsourcing is related to the topic of our planning process. Help me understand, how are they related?” When Lee responds, you and other team members might learn about a connection between the two topics that you hadnʼt considered…If there is a connection, the team can decide whether it makes more sense to explore Leeʼs idea now or later. If it turns out that Leeʼs comment isnʼt related but is still relevant for the team, you can suggest placing it on a future agenda.”

By handling off-topic comments in this way, employees will feel valued, that their concerns and opinions matter, whether or not they can be dealt with in the moment.

The result? Happier employees, and meetings that are efficient and accomplish their stated goals.

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Management Success Tip #98: Deal Effectively with Meeting-Derailing Employees: Set Boundaries

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Meetings are either a blessing or a curse: a blessing when they are short, to the point, and actually get business handled. A curse when they are long, rambling, and cause more problems than they do solutions.

Laura Vanderkam, in a recent CBS MoneyWatch blog, noted two of the more troublesome types of meeting-derailers that make it difficult for you to get anything productive done, and only contribute to your on-point, on-target employees’ frustration:

“The non sequitur. This person needs to be heard and either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that the ground rules of a discussion require at least some relation between discussion points. Interrupt swiftly with “That’s an interesting point. Let’s table that and move back to our current agenda item.” Don’t have a timed meeting agenda? Then you’re inviting this behavior.

“The constant questioner. This person assumes that asking questions about everything the speaker says makes her sound smart and attentive, not realizing (or caring) how distracting it is. Unless the person is your boss, deflect with “We’ll be getting to that, and I promise I’ll make time in 5 minutes for questions.” This person usually turns out not to have any real questions once he or she realizes it won’t be possible to turn the meeting into a Socratic dialogue.”

Set your meeting agendas with firm boundaries, email them to all concerned ahead of time, and stick to your meeting-guns!

Your best employees will thank you.