Disengagement in meetings can quickly snowball. You have seen this. When a few people disengage in a meeting, others are soon to follow. One of the biggest culprits of disengagement in a meeting is distractions. Distractions can steer emotional energy, creative thinking and collective wisdom away from the important matters being discussed. Here are four huge distractions in meetings.
1. Side conversations
Side conversations can derail a meeting. The attention of the team is divided and the person who has the floor is dishonored. When side conversations emerge, ask, “Is this something the whole group needs to hear?” If it is, focus the meeting on that discussion for a few moments. If it is not, kindly ask the discussion to be handled offline.
In The Condensed Guide to Running Meetings, Amy Gallo writes, “Devices distract us. Many people think they can finish an email or read through a Twitter feed while listening to someone in a meeting. But research shows we really can’t multitask. Devices also distract others. Research suggests that we feel annoyed when people are on their devices during a meeting, yet we fail to realize that our actions have the same effect on others.”
After forwarding to my team, some responded that when they were on staff in another context or led consultations at other organizations, there was a basket where all phones were placed at the beginning of each meeting. Whatever your approach is, it is helpful to state expectations to the team on the devices that are allowed in the meeting.
When the latecomer arrives to the meeting, the group is distracted, and if the meeting has already begun, usually inefficient backtracking needs to occur. Being late for a meeting is not only distracting; it is also bad stewardship. I have been late for meetings, and I hate the stewardship implication of my lateness. “I am sorry I am five minutes late” is not an accurate statement. If there are 10 people in the meeting, and I am five minutes late, I just squandered 50 minutes of our time. To set the expectation that the meetings will start on time, start them on time.
4. Apathetic team members
Perhaps the biggest distraction in a meeting is an apathetic team member who subtly (or even intentionally) sends signals of disengagement. Dismissive body language, passive listening and sour looks can tell the others “I don’t really want to be here” or “I don’t really believe in our mission.” When you sense apathy, you owe it to the team to confront the person privately. If apathy continues, you need to remove the person from the meeting. When apathetic team members are removed from meetings, the energy level and collective passion is exponentially raised. Wise leaders don’t let apathetic people destroy the culture of the team.