By Jim Wong, CPA | April 29, 2015

Don’t let the big personalities get the best of your meeting.

You’ve finally nailed down a time and date to get all of your staff accountants together to discuss ways to cut your month-end close process by three days. You realize that you’re going to get pushback on the subject alone. Letting everyone voice their ideas to help come up with a resolution will be even more of a challenge.

Before you walk into a firestorm of opinions, it’s best to prepare yourself ahead of time for exactly how to handle the group meeting with grace.

As a leader, you are supposed to do just that – lead – and in a group setting sometimes loud personalities can overtake the momentum, leaving those less vocal in the dust, and you without a grip on the matter. The best led meetings I have observed have been when the leader is able to maintain control of the situation without losing credibility.

Forbes addressed a similar issue in a recent article, One Simple Tool For Controlling Loudmouths In Your Team Meetings. Author Mark Murphy says, “Meetings are supposed to be value-adding forums where everyone invited to the meeting gets to participate.” I’ve taken some of Murphy’s input and incorporated some of my own into the following tips for maintaining control during team meetings.

Set a firm agenda.

Meetings I led in the past that had gotten off track had one thing in common – I had not set a formal agenda with the attendees. You must have a clear purpose of what the meeting is about and what you want to have happen as a result. This also helps for any remote individuals, who may be attending the meeting virtually, follow along. Additionally, an agenda can be used as a roadmap for redirecting the conversation back to the topic at hand when someone goes off on a tangent.

Ask for the “what” and the “why.”

At the start of the meeting, you should ask everyone to write down their ideas on how to accomplish an earlier month-end close (or whatever topic is on the table) and why they think those ideas will work. Ask them to back up their suggestions with both pros and cons. Pass out sheets of paper to everyone. For those attending virtually, I would ask them to use the comment section of the Web meeting tool to submit their responses. Then read through each person’s suggestions. This allows everyone to take a moment to collect their thoughts and ideas. It also helps keep everyone engaged throughout the meeting.

Give everyone the same amount of time to talk.

You want everyone to have a voice. After you read through all of the suggestions, allot a specific amount of time for each person to have the floor and respond. Whether you give everyone two minutes or five minutes, simply give everyone the same amount of time. Be sure that even the quiet individuals in the corner are forced to speak their ideas. I have found that often times the quiet individuals have great insight and ideas. Encouraging quiet members to share their thoughts have led to some of our company’s best initiatives. Bring a stopwatch or use the stopwatch app on your phone to time everyone, and don’t be timid about cutting someone off when the time is up. Alternatively, if someone finishes before the time is up, ask them questions to encourage the conversation. Let them know that they still have time on the clock to voice their opinion. It shows that you really do want to hear their suggestions. It also keeps you in control of the meeting.

What are some other ways to maintain control during team meetings? Comment below and let us know!

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