We’ve all been in meetings that have gone off the rails. There could be one person dominating the conversation, another person who adds an item that wasn’t on the agenda, or the meeting drags past the end time. The result is a frustrated team, lack of progress and no clarity on the next steps.

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share these four meeting distractors as shared from a Harvard Business Review blog, along with tips to prevent each one.

Not getting on the same track at the start of the meeting. Your meeting can’t get off track if it wasn’t on a track to begin with. By on track, we mean agreeing on the agenda and topics to be discussed. If you don’t have an agreed-upon meeting purpose and a process for achieving that purpose, your team hasn’t agreed on a track. To prevent this problem, you need a process to develop and address the agenda items. This begins before the meeting, by designing and distributing an agenda with questions to be answered, including a specific step-by-step process for addressing each agenda item and identifying which require a decision. All of these agreements will become your point of reference for ensuring that the rest of the meeting remains on track.

Not understanding your role in moving the meeting down the track. For each part of the agenda, each person should know if he or she is expected to share information, advise others who are making the decision, be part of a decision or just listen. If it’s your meeting and you don’t tell people the roles you expect them to play, and then they act at odds with your expectations, you’ve helped create the problem.

Creating multiple tracks that lead nowhere. Watch meetings closely and you’ll notice that within a given agenda item many smaller on-topic conversations get started that don’t get finished. Each of these mini-topics needs to be addressed to resolve the overall agenda question. But your team loses its focus and momentum when it starts down multiple conversation tracks without reaching the end of any one of them.

Remember, when you raise an issue or ask a question, take responsibility for making sure that the issue is resolved one way or another before the team shifts to another part of the topic. That often means hearing from everyone in the meeting, even if only to find out if they agree with what you’re proposing. For example, if you said, “Given our discussion, I think we shouldn’t adjust the plan until we see the financials from the first quarter,” follow it by asking, “Is there anyone who has any concerns about doing that?”

Assuming that it’s only the formal leader’s job to keep everyone on track. Many teams suffer from the one-leader-in-a-room mindset. In these teams, the members—and often the formal leader as well—believe that it’s solely the formal leader’s job to ensure that team meetings are working well. But no one person—not even the formal leader—can see everything that needs to be done to make a meeting more effective.

In high-performing teams, everyone on the team is accountable for the team’s effectiveness. That means if you’re a team member and you see that there isn’t a clear meeting purpose and process, you don’t know your role in the meeting, or people seem to be getting off track, you say something rather than silently criticizing the leader for poor meeting management.

Making sure that your meetings stay on track involves multiple steps. It begins before the meeting by designing a clear agenda and continues throughout the meeting to ensure that the group is on the topic that it agreed to discuss. If everyone is held accountable for paying attention and speaking up when things seem unclear or off-topic, your meeting will stay focused, on track and on time.

Source: Roger Schwarz is a consultant with over 30 years of experience working with leaders and teams. He is also a well-known business author who contributes to many publications, including the Harvard Business Review blog.