As a volunteer for a community group, I’m frustrated with our monthly meetings and looking for help. Technically, I’m not supervising the individuals I work with on my particular project, but we are all responsible for getting monthly updates and insights in our particular area from one another.
One person in particular, rather than answer a direct question when asked, uses the opportunity to discuss his opinions and frustrations, before giving the necessary information. For example, I need to know his final results in getting vendors for a particular event, and he will go into over-share on why he did or didn’t get a particular vendor. This makes our meetings last longer than necessary and takes us off-topic, but I don’t want to come across as impatient or rude. After all, everyone is giving of their time and energy, and this organization needs all the help we can get.
In the past, I’ve brought up the idea of “parking” topics that aren’t on the agenda, but during the actual meeting no one steps up and holds another accountable. Plus, what this person shares is technically about the subject, just not necessary information. Is there something I could say in the moment that wouldn’t come across too harshly?
– Time-Sensitive Volunteer
Dear Time-Sensitive Volunteer,
The simple fact everyone on the committee is already giving bonus time and energy to serve others is reason enough to run effective meetings. Prior to the next meeting, simply say “In order to maximize our meeting time, I’d like to revisit ‘parking’ topics that aren’t on the agenda. As a refresher, that’s when we find ourselves going off-topic and rather than continue to discuss, we ‘park’ the conversation for the following meeting’s agenda or if we should finish early. If everyone is comfortable, I’ll volunteer to take responsibility for saying the word ‘park’ and making a note to be sure it gets on the next month’s agenda. We can choose to rotate this function if you prefer.”
Then, I would continue by saying, “Another idea someone gave me to become a more effective communicator is to make sure we answer a direct question with a direct answer rather than digress into supporting information. Are the rest of you open to structuring our conversations this way to become more efficient and effective? If so, what do you think we should say or do when one of us isn’t answering directly?” Let them come up with a code word or perhaps you have a mascot that gets thrown into the middle of the table. Either way, it will bring awareness and hopefully accountability to all. And, thank you for the service and time you give back to your community.