6 Ways To Sabotage A Meeting... And How To Stop It

By: Veronica Thraen

Image Source: ThinkStock

There's more to facilitating a meeting than just sending out the invite. Meeting facilitators must make meetings productive by ensuring that there is a purpose, clear goals and objectives, the right people, ample participation, and so on. But there's only so much a facilitator can do. Sometimes, you need a little help from the attendees.

Now, don't get me wrong... I've been on both sides of the table, and there's nothing more irritating than a facilitator who schedules a meeting but doesn't really have much to say. Or someone who doesn't know how to control the discussion. But even the most experienced facilitators find it challenging when faced with these behaviors:

1. Continually Late

In high school, I was always late to my first class and the teacher would tell me that I was going to be late to my own funeral. I never understood what the big deal was until I became a project manager and had to schedule meetings. It is understandable when someone is late due to unforeseen circumstances; however, when someone is continually late, it is rude, inconsiderate and affects everyone in the meeting.

Try speaking with them after the meeting to see if you can reach an agreement. They might not realize how their tardiness affects the meeting.

2. Multi-Tasking

Unless it's a working meeting, laptops should be left on the desk. It is aggravating to a facilitator when attendees constantly check email during their meeting, and then ask questions about something that's already been discussed.

Ask attendees prior to the meeting to leave laptops on the desk or request at the start of the meeting to keep them closed.

3. Phone Usage

I get it--we can't live without our phones these days. We have them with us at all times, including at meetings, "in case of an emergency." But answering text messages from friends or replying to Facebook posts does not constitute an emergency.

Facilitators are only asking for an hour or so of everyone's time. If attendees are asked to put their phones on silent mode, will they start to twitch? Take a chance and ask anyway.

4. Side Conversations

I attended a meeting where two people were having their own side conversation while the facilitator was talking. Perhaps they thought the meeting hadn't started yet... or that they were at lunch. Regardless, it was disruptive to both the attendees and the facilitator.

The facilitator stopped the meeting to allow these two attendees to finish their conversation, and for 5-10 seconds--what seemed like an eternity--they were oblivious to everyone else in the room. Having all eyes (and ears) on them was awkward enough to prevent it from happening again.

5. Negativity

There always seems to be someone who, at the mention of a great idea or suggestion, finds a way to disagree or argue. Don't get me wrong, naysayers can sometimes be a voice of reason in an otherwise stampeding herd. But "Negative Nellies" can often nitpick the finest of details for what seems like forever.

Just inform them that their concerns can be discussed in more detail after the meeting and move on.

6. Hijacking

I'm sure that everyone has experienced the meeting "Hijacker" at one point or another. This is the person who loves to take control. They come barreling into your meeting and completely change the agenda--a colossal waste of everyone's time. This situation is even more challenging if the Hijacker is someone in upper management.

The best approach is to politely ask them if you can schedule a separate meeting to discuss their topic so that you can stick to the original agenda.

We all agree that unproductive meetings can be frustrating; however, they might be a bit more enjoyable and productive if we can work together to improve--or better yet - eliminate the meeting sabotage altogether. What's the worst example of meeting sabotage that you've ever experienced?


Veronica Thraen is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Maven Project Management, a technology project management consulting firm in Phoenix, Arizona that helps growing organizations put processes and tools in place to keep projects on track for long-term growth and success. And a self-confessed meeting etiquette junkie.