Are whiners wrecking your meetings? Too often, whiners cause weekly staff meetings to go off agenda and disintegrate. As a result, managers dread meetings, employees dread meetings—and worst of all—it keeps happening! Why? Because the whiners are being allowed to derail the meetings!
We have all suffered “Death by Meeting” (one of my favorite Patrick Lencioni books, incidentally): the meeting dissolves into finger pointing, filibustering, becomes a soapbox for underperformers to talk about all the reasons “it cannot be done,” or no one comes prepared with calendars and note taking capabilities. Others at the meeting understand that these are deflection tactics to take the focus off of the topic or person at hand. Personal accountability goes out the window.
Managers: the purpose of meetings is to discuss and decide. If nothing is decided, there is no purpose in having these meetings.
You are the meeting leader! Short of wearing a “no whining” button, what can a manager or company leader do to break the cycle of endless derailed meetings?
- Hold one-on-one meetings weekly or every other week with each staff member. If your staff’s only opportunity to communicate with you is in a group setting, only the least whiny will resist their only opportunity to communicate up. Instruct employees to bring an agenda of topics, to test ideas, ask questions, etc.
- Be a skill builder! Resist rescuing the whiner. It is not your job to solve the whiner’s issue. Ask how he or she thinks the issue should be approached—and why.
- Set ground rules for all meetings. Whether for one-on-one or group meetings, get participants to agree on day one to parameters. These could include: “start on time and end on time,” “no cell phones or texting,” “no interrupting,” “no monopolizing,” and “no problems without solutions.”
- Follow through. If the ground rules say, “no complaints without solutions,” stick to it. Remember, no whining!
As an organizational leader, the manager is responsible for keeping meetings on track and for ensuring that topics are covered in the allotted time. Managers should not be afraid of tough talk if it is needed. While it is best to praise in public and criticize in private, enforcing group norms or meeting ground rules should be public. Managers should remind the “derailers” of time and topic constraints. Most important, they should model desired behaviors—and not whine themselves.
Nancy S. Ahlrichs is strategic account manager at FlashPoint where she interacts with human resource professionals, executives, and business owners in order to understand their organizational needs. She collaborates with our other team members to develop appropriate consulting solutions and supports prospects throughout the sales process.
Image: Clare Bloomfield