How to Defeat a Meeting Hijacker

Once on a flight from Auckland to Sydney, the captain announced that air traffic control wanted our plane to slow down because bad weather at our destination was creating backups.

I pulled up the flight tracker app on my in-seat monitor to watch our progress. I felt the plane slow. After some time I noticed the flight track showed a big old loop 90 percent of the way across the Tasman Sea. Smooth turning, I thought, as I hadn’t felt the plane turn.

Meeting tangents

After a bit more time, I noticed the green dot over Sydney, that represented our destination, had moved north to an unnamed spot on the Australian coast. I said to Marie, “I don’t think we are going to Sydney.”

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Moments later the pilot announced that we were diverting to Coffs Harbour to refuel and wait out the stormy conditions in Sydney.

And if you’re curious, the extra leg of the flight had even more crazy loops than the flight up to this point of change. At least we eventually got to the right place.

Sometimes the same thing happens in meetings. You’re heading in one direction, and suddenly find yourself going another. And often it’s not the leader who changed course but one of the participants.

I think of people who take meetings off track as hijackers. They represent a real problem in meetings, but luckily one you can do something about.

Many times the person who took over the meeting did so unintentionally. In other cases, they knew that what they wanted to discuss wasn’t on the agenda, and purposefully diverted the meeting.

In either case, hijackers keep your group from achieving its goals. Whenever that happens, it reinforces the belief that meetings are a waste of time.

To keep the meeting on track, you’ll need to deal with the hijackers. Here’s how to do it.

Call it out

The minute the hijacker tries to take control, stop things by acknowledging the comment and suggesting the group review the purpose and agenda to determine if and where the hijacker’s issue fits into the agenda.

Have a plan

Provide the group with a written agenda in advance. If there is a piece of paper that states the order of business, people are less likely to hijack the meeting. And if they do, it is more likely that others will help you get things back on track.

Gather input

Finally, ask for input prior to the meeting. In addition, quickly poll the meeting participants at the onset of the meeting to see if any new concerns have arisen since planning the agenda.

That way you can anticipate what might come up and be ready for it. Better yet, you can amend the agenda to deal with the issues that are most important to people.

You can save the meeting

Hijackers will only wreck your meeting if you let them. I suggest you take some proactive steps, and if that doesn’t help, respond immediately before you lose any chance to make the meeting successful.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.