3 ways to stop your meeting from being hijacked


Meetings are not the easiest things in the world to lead and to manage. Depending on the meeting, some of the group or team wish to be there and value the opportunity, whilst others perceive it to be a waste of time. Even after significant time is invested by you in creating meetings where participants and more involved and engaged, the response is not what you would ideally like.

On top of this, meetings usually result in more work for those involved. Meetings are about decisions, picking up on areas where improvement is needed or supporting new initiatives and consolidating others. Subsequently, people can act out and, all of a sudden, a meeting goes of course and you struggle to get things back on track. If this has happened to you, it is most likely that you have been the victim of a meeting hijack.

Meeting hijacks are not always intentional. Most of my experience suggests that certain conditions usually trigger a meeting hijack such as not enough support for items and actions raised in the meeting. Most frequently, from what I have observed, meeting hijacks can occur when participants in the meeting feel that their needs are not being met. As a result, they begin to force their point of view on the meeting, usually bringing up matters unrelated to the agenda items as things spiral out of control.

So how do you prevent the meeting hijack? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Plan your agenda carefully and lay down meeting protocols. A carefully planned agenda shows that you are organised. You can anticipate some of the responses to the items, so that you are able to deal with negative reactions and keep things focused on the matters at hand. Protocols allow for roles and responsibilities to be given. Perhaps a more vocal member of the team can be asked to take the minutes, so that they are more focused on listening rather than pushing their own agenda. With the agenda, state what you would like to achieve by the end of the meeting and refer everyone back to these intentions if you find the team going off on a tangent.
  2. Take individual concerns offline. When group members begin to sidetrack the meeting, stop them by giving them the opportunity to discuss the matter with you afterwards or at a later time. This allows you to address individual concerns separately, whilst allowing the team to be spared from wasting valuable time. If you choose to do this, make sure that you follow-through with the conversation.
  3. Encourage participation. Allow members of the team to suggest items for the agenda, however, ensure that they prepare for these items well in advance and, especially, challenge them to bring solutions to problems that they wish to discuss. I find that most of the more difficult members of the team will not take you up on the offer, as this is too much like hard work. You can, however, always come back to the fact they you gave them every opportunity to have input and ownership of the agenda. As is often said, the dogs with the loudest bark are not always the smartest dogs.

Remember, your ability to run effective meetings is a key part of being a good leader. It is a public demonstration of how you handle some of the most difficult aspects of leadership.

photo credit: hmvh via photopin cc

Connect with me via Twitter @richard_bruford

Originally posted on http://richardbruford.com


  1. EthicOfCare said:

    Why would you want to shutdown someone who is challenging with genuine curiousity? Take them offline? Perhaps listening to their concerns would enlighten more than you might imagine and create an opportunity for you to mentor and teach. Curriculum has been reinvented. Teacher effectiveness has been reinvented. The time has come for leadership to reinvent itself. The passive aggressive ways depicted here are so blasé.

    March 29, 2015
    • Thanks for contributing. You make a good point about challenging with genuine curiosity. I think the context of the discussion and how well you know your team would be a basis for whether you move a discussion away from the meeting table. Taking a discussion offline can lead to a lot of productive conversations and then brought back to the meeting table. It depends on the leader and the manner that they approach this. I would certainly welcome your thoughts on how leadership needs to reinvent itself.

      March 31, 2015
  2. Patricia Kay said:

    It also helps to have a cut off time. In planning the agenda, approximate times should be dedicated to each item. I have found these strategies in addition to the ones you discussed greatly help my potentially controversial meetings to run efficiently.

    March 30, 2015
    • Thanks for reading Patricia. Timing of items is very important and a really tough protocol to stick to. I am glad you are having success with it. I am interested if you move the item onto the next meeting if it is not resolved in the time given, in particular decisions that need to be made quickly?

      March 31, 2015
  3. carol said:

    I run a lot of meetings and I agree with the author…if I have a clear agenda for the meeting, and someone hijacks it and takes it in a different direction, I DO suggest we take it offline if what is being said is not relevant to the meeting agenda. People who attend my meetings are coming to learn something. I welcome questions and participation however that is much different than a hijacker. Also the intention of the hijacker needs to be taken into consideration as well. Some people hijack to bully, get in to a power play, because they are self absorbed etc. These people should not be allowed to take over a meeting. It is pretty common for someone to unintentionally hijack a meeting by just having a lot of questions or want to participate in the discussion to the point that it takes up too much time. In my experience, those people usually do not have an issue taking things offline when it is suggested because their intention was not ego driven in the first place.
    Every situation is different and a good leader knows how to recognize and handle those differences to keep the meeting productive and on focus.

    September 10, 2017

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