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Setting Up a Framework for Meetings to Avoid Disruptions

Toxic atmospheres
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Toxic employee

27 December, 2018

Ankush Goyal discusses steps to take when dealing with a disruptive employee during meetings.


I was recruited into a company by the VP of engineering. This person started off as an engineer then moved up to the head of engineering before realizing that he wasn't a people manager. He, himself, had agreed to bring in somebody from the outside to replace him, and so I was brought on board. However, after some time I noticed that his attitude and personality had shifted. He started getting disruptive during meetings, in turn, hindering others from voicing their thoughts and losing their trust. I, though, was in a position to address his behavior. So, how does one deal with meetings that include a difficult or disorderly team member?

Actions taken

I would begin by sitting down with the individual and discussing their behavior. Talk about the effect their actions have on the productivity of meetings as well as on the team in general. Have a private one-on-one chat and be willing to provide the support for them to adjust and improve.

Establish a framework. Lay down principles on how to conduct meetings. Explain to the team that in order to conduct productive meetings that everyone must commit to abiding by those principles. Everyone is asked to commit publicly so that they all are held accountable. Additionally, this allows you to address the whole team and to avoid singling out a specific person.

Examples of frameworks and principles:

  • Decide what kind of meeting it is. Is it a decision-making meeting, a discussion meeting, or a consensus meeting? If it is a meeting for making decisions, for example, then clearly identify the individual who will be making the decisions. This will clarify who the decision maker is for the disruptive individual, and for everybody else as well. Input will be taken into consideration but ultimately one person will have the final say.
  • Set time limits for the amount of time that you may speak during a meeting. Everybody gets a certain amount of time and once you exceed that time then others may intervene.
  • Write down three points on a whiteboard at the beginning of the meeting. Everyone must stay in the limits of those topics or else be asked to save off-topic information and conversation for after the meeting.

Creating a framework minimizes the space that disorderly team members can be disruptive. However, if the disruptions continue to happen then I suggest giving the individual feedback directly following the meeting. Mention your prior conversations and the agreement to correct the misbehavior. Continue giving micro feedback along the way if necessary.

Give the person a couple of weeks, as behavior isn't likely to change overnight. After that time have another one-on-one where you get their perspective on how things are going. Ask if they feel like they're making progress and compare it to your observations. Optimistically, you are both on the same page and will continue to be so while moving in the right direction. If it's not working though, and hopefully the feeling is mutual, the case may be to have a conversation about parting ways.

Lessons learned

  • Changing people's behavior is extremely difficult. The person needs to have intrinsic motivation to change. You can provide endless guidance but they are the ones that have to make the change for themselves and for the team's benefit.
  • Think of yourself as a well-intentioned dictator while setting up principles. The framework that you put in place goes beyond the disruptive member. It is a structure for conducting orderly and productive meetings for the entire team, present and future.

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