Reyer: On his agenda: Keeping all participants on topic

  • Article by: LIZ REYER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • February 12, 2012 - 6:25 PM

QMeetings in the volunteer organization that I'm involved in tend to get very out of control. We often stray off topic, usually because of a few longwinded folks. How can I help us become more productive?

ATake the lead in helping your organization create more structure around your meetings.

The inner game

This situation is common, and can be a big time and energy waster. To address it, let go of any annoyance or frustration you may feel so that you can focus on solutions. It may help to remind yourself of the positive attributes each member brings to your organization.

Then focus specifically on the ways your group's meetings are being derailed. This may include revisiting topics after decisions are being made, engaging in unnecessarily prolonged discussions, or digressions that completely move off topic. Then consider the reasons this is permitted. It may be perceived as disrespectful to cut off another group member, or there may be a fear of seeming confrontational. And consider negative effects this has on achieving your organization's mission.

I also wonder if other members share your perspective. Do you have reason to think that it's of general concern, or is it just you? If you seem to be the only one with an issue, it will be harder to achieve more efficiency in your meetings.

Use these insights to create ideas about ways to improve your meeting process. Also look back at effective meetings that you've participated in, particularly focusing on the meeting management strategies that have been used.

The outer game

Tee up this issue by putting an item on an upcoming meeting agenda: "Discuss meeting productivity." Then prepare by putting together a succinct and specific explanation of the issue as you see it.

For example, "Our meetings often run longer than scheduled, but we don't get through all of the topics we need to discuss." This will have much more power than "our meetings are not well run" because it's factual rather than judgmental, and is especially important if there isn't general agreement on the issue.

Then shift to ideas for ways to tighten up your meetings. If you don't use a structured agenda, it's time to start. Develop group ground rules about digressions, such as adding them as future agenda items, as well as for other issues.

Finally, figure out ways to put your new approach into practice. One fun way can be through the wallet: If you digress, a dollar goes into the pot. Use it for after-meeting get-togethers or donations. Or simply point to the agenda. As long as most people in your group agree that change could be positive, the strength of the group will help enforce the new approach.

If you don't get the group to go along, work for gradual change on your own, using a light touch to point out digressions and help move the agenda along. While it may be slower, it can still make a difference.

The last word

Helping your organization become more efficient will also help reduce your frustration and increase your satisfaction with your role.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at

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