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How To Save The Day When A Meeting Is Going Nowhere


​The last thing anyone wants to add to a full calendar is a meeting. Absolutely no one on the planet wants to spend part of the regular workday to accommodate a discussion that can very well go nowhere. Did you know most professionals attend a total of 61 meetings a month?! All of them definitely don’t go to plan. So, here are a few ideas on how to take charge and bring the focus back.

Sometimes, it may seem like you need much bravado to step in and call a spade a spade, but that’s precisely what you need to do to save a lousy meeting from extending well into the next and ruining your day.

• When the agenda is vague: ​You’d be surprised at the number of meetings that have no apparent purpose. This is often the case with internal reviews and team meetings. Usually, when vendors and contractors step into the picture, the meetings are more likely to be focused on that conversation. The problem arises because something as broad in scope as an internal review is not an agenda everyone can come prepared for. Consequently, every individual has random contributions to make, and some of them may not be relevant to everyone present. The solution: Internal reviews are best done with small, functional teams that are working on the same problem. Keep everyone else out of it, or just mail the minutes later. • Unenthusiastic participation: Yes, we’re all guilty of doodling during a meeting, because we’ve been sitting there for too long! There are several reasons why this might happen, and we’re strong advocates of small, frequent breaks during meetings like these. The solution: If breaks do not solve the problem, a good pep-up session will. Share a funny anecdote or bring up the latest movie to give everyone a few minutes of airtime and mental relief. This is sure to wake up even the sleepiest of participants and put everyone back in the groove. • Meandering conversations: It has happened to you before- in the middle of a critical discussion on topic A, someone decides to pitch in about topic B. That person has hijacked the meeting and decided that a discussion on topic B is essential. Unfortunately, they may sometimes even be right. The solution: Critical as topic B may be, someone needs to address the elephant in the room. Muster up the nerve to ask, “Can you please help me understand the immediate connection and why we are digressing?” If there is one, you’ll be that much wiser, and if there isn’t, many people will thank you for saying what is on everyone’s mind. • No decisions: Even top leadership is sometimes guilty of not condensing a meeting down to the action items. Thus, a discussion only ever stays a discussion with nothing being done. Except discussing it in the next meeting. The solution: Identify the decision-maker in the room, or become one! When the conversation seems to go nowhere, step up and say, “Okay, so we agree to do (actions) in the next (time period). What else do we need to make this happen?” • Absenteeism: Having a certain set of people in the room is crucial to a meeting’s success. Not having them there can quickly devolve into a watercooler conversation. No one wants to discuss everything under the sun for hours on end, to be sure. ​The solution: Dismiss the meeting. Don’t be afraid to suggest that the meeting should happen at a different time when everyone is available. When in doubt, never waste time- both yours and everyone else’s.

What other problems have you observed with meetings so far? Do you have an exit strategy for such situations?

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