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New for you: an easy way to learn about managing difficult situations and conflict in groups. Listen at home or in the car to Great Meetings! Great Results CDs:

Queasy About Conflict -- an hour-long interview with Dee and Pam on defusing conflict in groups.

Putting out Brush Fires --
a 5 CD set of 5 hour-long teleclasses on how to intervene in difficult situations. It comes with a downloadable workbook.

Click here to purchase the CDs or to learn more about how Dee and Pam can help you create Great Meetings with Great Results!

Keeping the Group on Track: Refocusing a Meeting That Has Drifted Off Course

Last week, we discussed steps you can take to set up a meeting that will stay on track. (See Keeping the Group on Track: Preventative Measures.) Despite all those steps, meetings can easily wander off course for one or more of these reasons:

  • Individuals believe they are speaking to the agenda topic, even if the group doesn't understand the connection.
  • Individuals may be attending to their own needs over the group needs: pursuing their own overt or covert agendas.
  • The topic is a difficult one for the group to discuss.
  • The group is genuinely confused or doesn't know how to proceed.
  • There are trust issues with the leader or individuals within the group that make it hard for people to speak their minds.

Imagine that you are facilitating a preliminary discussion with your faculty about ways to trim the budget. Based on last week's discussion, you have posted the meeting purpose, desired outcomes, agenda, and a "parking lot," and you have established ground rules about staying on topic. Then, as the discussion gets underway, one teacher, Xavier, starts talking about how hiring practices are archaic.

Xavier makes his point: "The 'last in, first out' policy harms everyone."

As facilitator, you ask Xavier to relate his point to the topic at hand: " Xavier, I'm not sure I understand the connection between budget cuts and current hiring practices. Could you help me understand the connection?"

Key Points To Take Away

--- Meetings go off track despite all the best preparation.
--- Being on track doesn't mean each moment is regimented; it means you are moving toward your goal within the timeframe you have established.
--- Analyze why the meeting is off track.
--- Choose an appropriate intervention to bring the meeting back to its purpose.

Most likely, Xavier will either acknowledge that he was off the topic, or he will explain the linkage.

Getting a group back on track depends on your analysis of the each off-the-track situation. Some suggestions for getting the dialogue back on track include the following:

  • Physically point to the flipchart and remind the group where you are in the agenda.
  • Ask the group if a diversion is helpful in moving toward the goal.
  • Name what is going on: "We're having a tough time sticking to the agenda." Then ask for help: "Why is that?" Summarize what you hear and offer a process suggestion for moving forward.

For more information about keeping meetings on track, order your copy of Great Meetings! Great Results today.

NEXT WEEK IN GREAT MEETINGS: Managing conflict in a group.

About Great Meetings

Pam Plumb and Dee Kelsey are your facilitators in charge of Education World's Great Meetings series. They are also authors of the popular guide to meeting facilitation, Great Meetings! Great Results. Together, Pam and Dee have more than 40 years' experience facilitating change and training meeting leaders.

Learn more by clicking the links below:

* Read biographies
Learn about Pam and Dee.

* Read a "backgrounder"
What will you learn from this series?

* See the Great Meetings archive
See past articles in the series.

* Visit the Great Meetings Web site
Learn about the book, training workshops Pam and Dee offer, and more.

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