Meetings can be a big waste of time or the biggest time saver. It all depends on your skills of keeping the meeting on track and engaging your staff. The challenges that keep your meetings from being productive include going on way past the allotted time, getting off track, and meetings that turn into gripe sessions. Here are four basics to running an effective meeting that keeps you completely in charge and engages your employees.

1. Set the expectations
2. Acknowledge the elephant
3. Beat the dead horse
4. Engage them

Set the expectations
One reason meetings get off track is due to negativity. It could be just one drama queen who always has something negative to say, but my bet is that she is speaking for the tribe, and she gets some sort of glory from her peers for having the courage to say what everyone else is thinking. Whether it’s everyone or just one person, the way to eliminate the complaining is to set the expectations before the meeting begins. This starts with a good agenda with a time allotment for each item on the agenda. Be realistic about the time it will take for each part, and this will help you avoid running over time. When you begin your meeting you may want to start out by acknowledging the elephant in the room.

Acknowledge the elephant
If there has just been a dramatic or unfortunate event, don’t ignore it and pretend it will go away. Whether it’s a pay cut, a firing, a policy change or a merger, you must bring it up briefly so that your employees feel heard. It goes something like this: “I know that many of us are very unhappy with the recent changes. It is affecting all of us and some of the complaints are valid, however I am going to ask that you try to work through it. We are not going to be discussing these challenges today. We may have a forum in the future, but today we will be talking only about XYZ on the agenda. If anyone does bring up something not on the agenda, we can put that topic on the flip chart and address it at a later date, but not today. Does everyone understand?” You will get a nod of agreement, and then you can move on to your agenda.

Beat the dead horse
If what has recently happened is still on everyone’s mind, you may elect to hold the first part of your meeting as a “beat the dead horse” session. Here’s what you do: Get a flip chart and markers and then start your meeting by saying, “We are going to play a quick game called ‘beat the dead horse.’ I want you to write down any complaint or upset that you have and put it on the board.” (Or you can have them state it in person and get a scribe to put the complaints on the flip chart.)

Start the clock and give a one minute warning. Read the statements off. Invite your staff to initial any of the complaints for which they have an idea for improvement that could reasonably work within company policy. Ask them to bring their ideas to you on a sheet of paper so you can address the ideas in the next meeting. Now you have empowered them to be problem solvers instead of complainers.

Engage their brain
Make a list of all the ideas that came to you. Acknowledge those who made the effort, even if the ideas are not valid solutions. If you do get a few solid ideas, that’s icing on the cake. If you don’t get any ideas, then you are teaching your staff not to complain if they cannot be part of the solution. Now you can schedule time on the agenda to invite problem-solving, and idea sharing. People buy into what they help to create.

Author's Bio: 

Marlene Chism is the founder of the Stop Your Drama Methodology, an 8-part empowerment process to help leaders navigate change and run the office with no complaints, no excuses and no regrets. To get free resources for Stop Your Drama Month, go to