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Ask Dan
My marketing staff derails our weekly meetings with personal stories and jokes. How do I get meetings back on track after these digressions?
The most efficient way to manage meetings and keep them focused on the agenda is by taking control before they even start. Once you allow for sidetracking with stories and jokes, you'll find it's more difficult to refocus staff than to herd a bunch of cats.

To keep the reins tight on your meetings, then, I suggest you publish an agenda in advance, and email it to every member on your team. You might designate a certain amount of time to each item, so, for example, the agenda could say you'll discuss item A for 15 minutes, and review the monthly report for 20 minutes.

By having a published agenda with accompanying timelines, your staff will go into a meeting aware of how much time is allotted to each topic. That way, if they stray from the subject at hand, you can call their attention back to the agenda.

When you actually open the initial meeting after sending out an agenda for the first time, start by explaining that you are assigning times to the topics in order to get through the meetings quickly without digressions and distractions — and to respect their schedules. This should convey your intent without pointing the finger at specific individuals. They will soon grasp the idea that when it comes to these meetings, you want a little more business and a little less bedlam.

Dan Lumpkin, organizational psychologist, is the president of management-consulting company Lumpkin & Associates in Fairhope, AL. Need answers? Email your career-related questions to askdan@exhibitormagazine.com.
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