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I am working as a team leader for a technical team. I have been in a project for past 6 months and I know most of the history of the project. Due to multiple reasons a mess was created in the project.

As part of the process of clean-up of this mess we have hired 2 new team members who are good technically. Their profile and their history is good. But whenever I start meetings those guys pick some of the topic and talk very confidently and loudly. They draw the entire attention of the audience. Sometimes their points drift the discussions into another direction.

Being team lead it is my responsibility to lead the discussion in right direction. Usually I speak soft, slow and little louder. With this voice I am unable to stop them. I am afraid if I raise voice it leads to argument which are not good.

How can I stop them without creating heat/bad feelings in the environment and lead the meeting with proper direction?

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  1. Make sure you have a written agenda for these meetings - and try to limit their duration.

  2. Do they need to be every particular meeting? Sometimes, if the agenda is not relevant to an individual it can be hard to get them to focus.

  3. If it happens again, use a firm (not loud) voice to ask everyone to come back to the agenda and current topic.

  4. Take them aside after the meeting and politely explain to them that they are disrupting the meetings and that you would like them to make sure they stay on topic.

  5. If the behaviour continues, be prepared to write them up - yes, it will cause "hurt feelings" but you're the team leader - you have to look after the whole team and not nurse unco-operative members' feelings.

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    Excellent advice! I'd like to add one thing - the OP says they don't want to create bad feelings. The thing is, there already are bad feelings, and it's the two loudmouths that are creating them. I'd lay a bet that some/most other people in the team are also irritated that the meetings get off-topic and they expect the team leader to fix the problem. So you have the choice - allow those two to make everyone else have bad feelings, or place the bad feelings squarely where they belong, i.e. with the loudmouths. – Jenny D Sep 19 '14 at 10:01
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    Points 1 and 2 are by far the most effective, and least used, tools for meeting planners. They show up as the most important items on just about every article about successful meetings for a reason. In my professional career I actually make a point to decline any meeting invite without a clear agenda. If it's not worth the time to define what the meeting is about then it's probably not worth my time to attend. – Foosh Oct 29 '14 at 17:01
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You're not getting anywhere if you can't say "We're getting off-topic." Say it. "We're getting off-topic," softly but firmly. If they're still babbling, then you get their attention: "HEY! We're getting OFF-TOPIC. DROP IT!" Hard look. Hard eyes. Hard voice (*). For better or for worse, you're the team leader and you're setting and driving the agenda.

You need to learn to use your voice to either turn the heat on or cool it down, at will. It may not be part of your original persona to be assertive but since you are now team leader, your persona has to change. Either assert yourself when you need to and go forward, or let these two characters run amok, drop the idea of being the team leader and step back. I suggest that for the good of everyone on the team that you assert yourself and your authority as team leader. You can't be wallflower and team leader at the same time. And you can't afford the luxury of being a wallflower.

On technique: I suggest that the next time these two go off the rails that you take a smooth breath, empty your mind and explode with "HEY! You're off-topic!" as you exhale.

There will be heat and bad feelings if you're insufficiently assertive, starting with your heat and bad feelings and extending to their heat and bad feelings. If you are sufficiently assertive, the only heat and bad feelings might be theirs. If you don't mind and you don't care - and you shouldn't mind or care - then that's nothing to be concerned about. You're not a politician and you're not trawling for votes.

Note: (*) gnasher729 makes the especially appropriate comment that "There are alternatives, depending on your style. Instead of saying it loudly, get up walk to these two, and tell them quietly to stop. If it doesn't help, tell them quietly to stop or leave the room." If you don't like/want to raise your voice, gnasher's suggestion maybe the one for you.

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    There are alternatives, depending on your style. Instead of saying it loudly, get up walk to these two, and tell them quietly to stop. If it doesn't help, tell them quietly to stop or leave the room. – gnasher729 Sep 19 '14 at 8:45
  • @gnasher729 I incorporated your comment into my answer, giving you full credit, of course :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 19 '14 at 11:04
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Like Horuskul suggested sending out the meeting agenda helps. You could mention in your meeting invite requesting the team to focus on the agenda and objective of the meeting.

I would suggest the below techniques which could deal with the problem without hindering them personally.

  1. Bring to light the mutual gain if we focus on the topic.
  2. Attack the problem and not the people. When Mr.Deviator says hey "I worked on the-coolest-thing-on-earth". You could interrupt when they pause and politely say "I appreciate your interest on the coolest-thing, but this does adhere with the current topic". Let us focus on our discussion on the agenda".
  3. Give them a piece of the pie. - Ask them a question on the agenda, to sideline their interest like "I understand your point,what do you think about the point on agenda". This will help you get back in track.
  4. Use the board - Write the focus on the meeting on the board and write down the ideas relating to the central topic. This will allow participants to get engaged.
  • Addressing this problem in meetings is an art, and I have seen some real masters in my time. OP should not feel bad if this is a problem he can't fix but, rather, has to keep taking care of in every meeting. He does, however, need to take care of it every time. One problem I see is people getting into technical details of problems that are relevant. In those cases, the meeting leader usually just says, "That's a great discussion to take offline so we can get through the high-level issues here." – kmc Dec 14 '17 at 20:09
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What you have to do is be both firm and consistent in returning to the subject at hand. Firm doesn't have to be loud, it is more about the attitude with which you say things.

A child can tell from tone of voice when a parent is serious and so can these guys. You can observe this at work in any riding stable, some little girls are kicking as hard as they can and the horse is ignoring them. Others just need a slight touch to get the horse to behave because they have learned to project their intent.

If you are tentative, they will ignore you; if you come across as meaning it when you talk, they will pay more attention. This is something you can practice (first borrow a horse... no not really although it will help a lot if you have trouble with assertiveness). Insted of the horse, stand in front of a mirror and practice the phrases below (and in other answers) in different tones of voice until you get one that sounds firm. Then practice, practice, practice until it always sounds firm.

In practicing, it helps to exaggerate, if you are tentative, purposely trying to be nasty may just move you far enough away from tentative to be assertive. Exaggeration is the natural way we learn things. You are at point A and want to get to point B but can't seem to get there, then try to get to point C which is beyond point B. Sometimes the problme is that point A and point B are farther apart than you think. So you are changing enough to get to Point A.2 but not to Point B. Get a friend to help you out with this after you practice with the mirror for awhile. You want to know how you are perceived not what you think you did.

So what you do is interrupt them every single time they get off track. Her are some things you can say:

  • We can discuss that if there is any time left over after we get through the agenda.
  • That is an interesting idea, why don't you write me up a cost-benefit analysis. I will expect to see it by Friday. Now back to ....
  • Let's get back on topic. Harry, what do you think about... (Make sure you redirect to someone other than the two who are off topic.)

If they persist, then you need to interrupt sooner and more firmly. Don't let them get more than a sentence out on the other topic. If they still persist, you can tell them they are wasting everyone else's time and to stay on topic. You are the lead, these people are not your friends, they are your subordinates. If they can't get a clue after two or three redirections, you need to take them aside after the meeting and tell them their behavior is not acceptable and to clean up their act.

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If you have to repeat yourself when you tell people they are getting off topic or any other meeting disruptions, stop the meeting and as you leave, let everyone know you will be sending a new time and schedule. Repeat offenders should not be invited until they learn how to act.

You only have so much time. Do not let people waste it.

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