Have you been in improvement meetings where you have a topic to be discussed and somehow the meeting gets derailed?

You want to talk about an issue that needs to be improved. You think it is clear what you want and then, somehow, a load of other issues get clagged onto the discussion.

Before you know it, the meeting has descended into a vigorous debate about all sort of personal agendas and semi-related topics… before everyone gives up and you call the meeting closed.

As you know, this approach doesn’t lead to effective and efficient decision making. I’ve witnessed a number of these kind of meetings in the past couple of months, so here are some pointers to help you if you are experiencing the same thing.

Recognise the baggage

As soon as you realise that everyone is chucking in related, and unrelated, issues call it out. Remind everyone what you have come together to achieve.

Split the issues

Once you have everyone’s attention, spend a few minutes splitting out the issues that have been appended to the original discussion.

Know what to park

Agree with the team (or tell them – you’ll know what’s right!) what topics fit with the meeting’s purpose and which items need to be parked for another time.

Prioritise the rest

Determine what sequence you will work through the issues. Make it clear that you are attempting to avoid cross contamination between issues and that you’ll stop the meeting if people drift. Take the issues one at a time, in isolation. If they are genuinely interlinked, make sure the sequence makes sense to bring flow back into the discussion. Often the issues can be treated as building blocks towards a bigger solution.

Agree actions

Ensure that the actions are clear, with responsibilities defined and timelines agreed. But, hey, that goes for any meeting!

Take a deep breath

Yes, you get meetings like this from time to time. The key is to agree the actions for the original issue and then get on with your day job.

I hope that you don’t have meetings like the one I described above but if you do, hopefully this list will come in useful!

Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their on time delivery performance, ERP system performance and deploy Kaizen / Lean production methods. Giles is also the author of 'What Does Good Look Like?'.