It’s Monday morning. Everyone is caffeinated and ready to go. Your board meeting has a great agenda, but time will be tight to get through it all. And five minutes into the first item, a senior stakeholder decides to take off on an unplanned rabbit trail from which we may never return. Her track record tells us that this off-agenda rant will cost us at least three topics that we really need to get to today. What do you do? Your choices seem to be to either let her run the coarse or to interrupt her to tell her that her top-of-mind topic isn’t important enough to upset your agenda…neither feels like a good option.
As leader, it is your job to make this meeting effective and not to lose control. The rest of your board is waiting to see how you’ll handle this and to see if the topic they spent all weekend preparing is about to get scrapped.
So try this. The next time a stakeholder in the meeting takes off on a high speed, off topic, passionate rant...let them get the idea out, wait for the magic pause they’ll take before continuing and speak up with this suggestion: “You’ve brought up an important problem that isn’t on today’s agenda but clearly needs to be thought through and solved just as you’ve stated. I suggest we assign you and three others to take this problem offline, break it down, and bring back a presentation to this group in two weeks with some data and three possible solutions. Who would you like to work with you on this?”
Instead of losing control of your meeting and losing respect from your team, here’s what you just accomplished:
- You acknowledged that the board member’s problem was important.
- You showed genuine interest by suggesting a small team spend time on it.
- You quickly pushed the assignment outside of your current meeting.
- You have a specific time frame for the work group to bring it back in with solutions.
- And you communicated to everyone that trying to blow up the agenda will result in them being made leader of the task of solving the problem, which creates a healthy tension so that everyone carefully considers the real importance of spontaneous rants before they force them into a carefully planned live meeting.
It’s simple but it works, and you’ll save meetings from being hi-jacked in the future.