Meetings bloody Meetings!

Meetings, bloody meetings” is the title of a British comedy training film produced in 1976 that has become common language within the office.

Entreprise Media, the company that produced the film, described it as “the best-selling video that defines the five disciplines that transform a gathering into a professionally run business meeting. Declare independence from the drain and drudgery of rudderless meetings with Meetings Bloody Meetings!”

 If you think about it, the film dates back to 1976.  By now, and forty five years after it was produced, you would think the issue of running a business meeting professionally and effectively is a task we can all master.

Quite the contrary.

To date, we are still debating what the ingredients of an effective, engaging and successful business meetings are.

And we will continue to do so.

When a group of people gathers, inappropriate actions and words can sometimes get in the way.

In this article I share with you four common behaviors of a dysfunctional meeting and the ways to tackle them.

Dominant voices in the room

We’ve all been in meetings online or in presence were one person talks too much, goes off on a tangent and even finishes other people’s sentences.

Although such a behavior may be unconsciously driven, it is disrespectful because it prevents other members from participating, sharing their voices and giving their unique contributions.

The best way to deal with a dominant voice in the room is to prevent it from happening in the first place.  Set some ground rules and make them clear to all the participants prior to or at the beginning of the meeting.

For instance, you can indicate in the agenda the time allocated to each participants for presenting their topic. This way, you create a clear structure for your meeting and indirectly give yourself permission to interrupt those that talk beyond their allocated time.

Alternatively, you can encourage people to be mindful of sharing the stage and intentionally do a little math at the beginning of the meeting by saying, for instance:

“we have 12 people in the room for a ninety-minute meeting.  If we speak 5 minutes each, that give us the opportunity to hear everyone’s suggestions before we take thirty minutes to create our solution”.

Always ensure every participants is included in the conversation.

In practice, this means inviting the participants who have not spoken to share their perspective or points the groups hasn’t considered yet.

 Chronic latecomers

 This is one of the behaviors that can become contagious if not addressed properly.

Not to mention the frustration it causes when the organizer feels obliged to summarize the discussion had with the other participants to bring the latecomer up to speed.

Unless the latecomer has a good reason for the delay, such behavior shows lack of respect and poor time management.

The way I personally recommend you address this issue, is to lead by example. By this, I mean that you model punctual behavior by attending meetings always on time.

Request that participants also attend meetings on time by sending them a calendar invitation along with a reminder one day prior to the meeting.

Start the meeting on time.

Don’t feel obliged to “clue in” the latecomer to what he or she has missed.  Continue the meeting as normal.

Instead, handle the situation privately and outside the meeting by asking if there are any reasons for arriving late.

Offer your support and check if you can help your colleague taking steps to arrive early.

Supporting colleagues to adjust their behavior is a component of a leadership style that aims to develop people and help them grow.

The hypercompetitive

 In the workplace we’ve all come across those that uses inappropriate humor with a casual remark or a mocking phrase.  And this happens in meetings too.

When teasing conceals a mean-spirited attempt to discredit a participant, it can quickly become an offensive behavior.

It can make the atmosphere of the meeting hostile.  Even when others don’t see anything behind the casual remark and shake it off by saying:

It’s just a joke.

Just kidding! Don’t take everything so seriously.

 Don’t be so sensitive!

The reasons for making an inappropriate remark can vary.

Some people thrive on conflict and they may say inappropriate remarks to engage you and their counterpart into an argument.

This could happen with hypercompetitive people, when they become offensive in an attempt to put down their counterpart.  Or when, in an effort to rise to the top, they take credit for other participants’ ideas.

When this happens, take some distance if necessary and give yourself the opportunity to see things for what they are.

Once you’ve distanced yourself from the remark and the person who made it, be intentional with your words.

State the importance of sharing perspectives respectfully and collaborating with the purpose of reaching an outcome that is supported by every participants.

Make it clear that inappropriate humor is neither welcomed nor accepted in your meetings.


 Here I refer to people that start side conversations or do other work during the meeting.

It is impossible not to notice them, especially when they create subgroups.

Such behaviors inevitably cause disengagement. And when a few people disengage during a meeting, chances are that others will follow.

There are several reasons that cause people to disengage.  However, one the biggest reasons are distractions.

People who don’t put their devices on mute and check their emails or read through an Instagram feed.

People that start a side conversation with other participants and divide the group.

Whatever the reason, my recommendation is to address it prior to the meeting so that everyone know what to expect when attending the meeting.

Here, I suggest you and your participants establish some norms.

Perhaps you can decide that devices are to be put on mute? Or placed in a basket at the beginning of the meeting?

With those who start side conversation, you can also intervene in the moment by saying: “Is there anything that the entire group needs to hear’.

Finally, bear in mind that having a separate chat about the undesired behavior and naming it explicitly can be a valuable support for the other person.

It may help them recognize the impact of their behavior on the overall meeting and build trust.

Just ensure that your understanding is not mistaken by tolerance.

Tolerance always comes with the risk that other participants take up the dysfunctional behaviors simply because they go unnoticed.

Therefore, be firm and mature when asserting the rules and norms established.

Silvia Bottini, Executive & Team Coach

Silvia is the founder of bCoached and Co-founder of Valore Aggiunto. As an executive coach, Siliva helps executives and their teams enhance their Performance, Influence and Reputation.

To know more about Silvia’s coaching programs for executives and teams, contact her directly: silvia@bcoached.org