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Leading a team meeting can be a rewarding but also a challenging task. First, teams are made up of different people with different personalities, perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses. Second, problems are bound to arise within the team and the leader must be able to successfully navigate them to maintain team unity and trust.
Below are 8 common problems a leader may encounter during team meetings. As you examine each of the situations, first reflect on what you think the leader should do to prevent the problem or to handle it if it occurs. Then review the suggested solutions.
A team member asks questions or makes off-topic comments.
How to Prevent It: All meetings should have an agenda so that team members know what is to be discussed. This can include a quick agenda or meeting objectives recorded on a whiteboard or flip chart.
How to Handle It: This requires tact and leadership by the team leader. You want team members to be involved and to get engaged. You also don’t want to shut them down so that they no longer participate.
A side conversation takes place between two participants.
How to Prevent It: Set up objectives and an agenda so that everyone knows what is being discussed. Make sure the meeting is both interesting and beneficial to everyone there, and that people know why they have been included.
How to Handle It: If a side conversation develops, you should assume that it’s about your topic. This gives participants the benefit of the doubt and helps to keep them positive even though they have been called on their behavior.
Team members seem distracted.
How to Prevent It: Your job as a leader includes keeping the meeting interesting and productive so that participants are engaged. Consider where you are holding the meeting, the time of day, and competing priorities.
How to Handle It: If several participants seem distracted, stop, and acknowledge what is going on. Consider a short break to allow people to deal with something pressing (although you must also consider the impact this may have on others in the meeting).
If the number of distracted members is small, you could stop and ask someone to summarize what has happened so far. You could also call attention to the distraction, ask participants to set it aside, and fully engage in this commitment. Then continue with the full participation of everyone there.
Two or more participants are arguing.
How to Prevent It: Clarify objectives under discussion to limit off-topic disagreements. Then, remind participants that there are suitable ways to work through a disagreement, which you will assist them with. Also, remind them that their arguing is not conducive to the meeting outcomes (which you have covered in the ground rules when the team was initially formed).
How to Handle It: Your first objective is to resume control of the meeting without fueling the conflict. If the argument is the result of something that is on topic, the leader can help participants constructively work through the problem. If the disagreement is off topic, you can restate the objective being discussed, while inviting the participants to speak with you afterward (so that you can facilitate their resolving these issues quickly and effectively).
You can say something like: “I want to hear from both of you, but I am also responsible for making sure we make the best use of time here while the whole team is present. Say what you think, respectfully, but also be willing to listen to and consider the ideas of others.”
If necessary, you may have to stop the meeting to deal with hot issues before the team can resume working together again.
One or two participants dominate the meeting.
How to Prevent It: Sometimes this problem can be anticipated, and the leader can make the most of that knowledge by starting the meeting by reviewing some rules of conduct. Encourage everyone to participate, take turns being heard, and support one another. If there is a particular person who frequently dominates, speak with that individual before the meeting and let them know you need input from all participants and directly – though tactfully – ask them to temper their responses and involvement to encourage others.
If you ask questions and then ask for input by specifically inviting people to speak, you have help to stop domination. For example, you could say, “I’d like to talk about your ideas for improving customer service. Could each of you please take two minutes and write down what comes to mind?” Then, you can call on participants to answer the question and temper the involvement of those who frequently dominate by giving them a time limit. Make sure you invite people to speak by using their names.
How to Handle It: The key to your success as a leader is to not embarrass your enthusiastic participant. Remember that they have good things to contribute, and it’s not that you want to exclude them, but that you are trying to increase the involvement of others.
Here are some techniques that you can use.
Participants start checking their watches and/or phones and even begin packing up to leave.
How to Prevent It: End your meetings on time. If the time must remain open because of a problem-solving issue, let them know ahead of time by saying something like, “The meeting should finish by about 3:30 but we will stay here until we solve the problem.”
Try to schedule meetings when people are not distracted by competing issues, like having another meeting to rush off to. Also consider that they could be anxious to leave if they feel you are wasting their time, or they are not able to contribute. Make sure you can plan and run a productive meeting.
How to Handle It: When you notice people are restless, you must act.
Members of the team are not participating.
How to Prevent It: Make sure you are always engaging all members of the team, and that you never embarrass or insult anyone. Establish an environment that encourages and even teaches them how to fully participate. Keep things interesting and productive (i.e., don’t include people who don’t need to be there) and you’ll see more engagement.
How to Handle It: Your approach will depend on why people won’t participate. Have you gone beyond the time you scheduled? Respect their schedules and end the meeting; you can book something else for later. Are they bored? Stimulate and engage them.
New leaders sometimes inadvertently embarrass or tease people, both of which are not appropriate. If the group has no respect for you, they can be tough to engage. You can try to move on to another subject that is attention-grabbing so they can work beyond hostility, but you will have plenty of work to do to earn their trust.
You, the leader, get off track.
How to Prevent It: You need to be well-prepared and ready to meet the objectives. If you get off track it might be due to a comment by a participant, or it could be your own level of commitment to the team or the meeting. Maintain your composure, professionalism, and engagement.
To prevent getting sidetracked by participants, you can learn to evaluate each comment and question that comes from the group very quickly. If the comment is not on topic, keep things on track by calling attention to the objectives and the importance of staying on track. Encourage an ongoing dialogue by recommending that discussion of that item be postponed until later in the meeting or added to the agenda of a future meeting.
How to Handle It: If the leader recognizes they are off the subject an apology is all that’s needed. “I’m sorry I got off the subject there. I wish we had time to explore this, but we need to focus on today’s objectives first. The other topic will have to wait for now.” If a participant realizes that the meeting is going off track, that participant can tactfully bring it to the attention of the leader.
On a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is poor and 10 is excellent), how would you rate your ability to manage team meetings and successfully solve team problems (such as the ones discussed above or others) that arise? If your score is lower than a 7, what can you do differently to become more effective?
Managing meetings and dealing with issues that arise is not easy. Most people do not come to it naturally, but we can learn techniques to help us do it better. Take some of the ideas presented here and improve your skills and process.
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