When someone derails a meeting, it’s easy to assume that they’re the problem and the solution is to rein them in—but your assumptions may also be off-track. For smoother meetings, try these techniques:
Define what will be covered. If your team doesn’t explicitly agree on the meeting’s purpose and topic, interpretations will differ. Start your meeting by saying something like, “My understanding of the purpose of this meeting is X; does anyone have a different understanding, or think we need to add anything?”
Take a breath before a new topic. To reduce the chance that people will reintroduce issues that have been fully discussed, ask if anyone has something to add before moving on to a new topic.
Make fresh connections. If you’ve agreed on what to discuss and someone still seems off-track, ask her to explain how the topics are related. You might learn of a correlation that you hadn’t considered; if so, let the team decide whether to explore the idea now or, if it’s unrelated but still important, at a future meeting.
Adapted from “Dealing with Team Members Who Derail Meetings,” by Roger Schwarz.