In honor of Halloween – and the Season 6 premiere of The Walking Dead this Sunday – I’d like to take a minute to talk about zombies.

Yes, zombies. The very ones that regularly attend your meetings!

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • The always late person whose tired excuse of back-to-back meetings is wearing thin.
  • The person whose posture and body language screams, “I really don’t want to be here.”
  • The person who is more interested in the smart phone they hold just below the table than they are in the conversation.
  • The conspiracy theory devotee who has some discounting or outlandish remark to make about management in every meeting.
  • The two colleagues who sit next to each other in every meeting and have at least 10 side conversations every hour.
  • The person who uses the “devils advocate” card in every conversation with no real intention to add value—only to create a debate.
  • The talkers who seem to value what they have to say far more than anyone else so they just keep talking.

How many of us have to die, before we do something?

— The Walking Dead television series

You and I can handle a zombie or two. We can even handle the occasional non-supportive or non-productive behavior. What we can’t allow, though, is for this to become the dominating behavior or norm. No one can survive a horde of zombies.

So how do we ensure real, live people show up to the meeting?

Clarity of purpose and agenda:

  • Don’t meet unless there is real work to do.
  • Send out a clear agenda ahead of time with only topics worthy of the group’s time.
  • Schedule enough time to handle each topic thoroughly.

Keep the group small and environment supportive:

  • Only invite people required to do the work—eight is enough.
  • Sit around a small table. Intimacy makes attention happen. Intimacy shuts down distractions and non-value added comments. It’s harder for people to mess with you in small groups.

Comment: This is one reason why stand-up meetings and no-furniture meetings are successful

Have a game plan for each topic:

  • It’s hard to keep people on track if they don’t know there IS a track.
  • Have a clear, visible path or track for each topic so people know exactly how the conversation will flow and how to participate. If necessary include the track on the agenda or on a chart.
  • Ask for permission to keep the conversation on track—then bring it back each time it goes off track.
  • Have someone chart or use a white board to keep track of the conversation so there is less recycling.

Round up some allies:

  • Before the meeting, ask a couple of participants to help you keep the conversation on track.
  • Ask a quiet reflective colleague to be notice where the conversation is and be ready to suggest process changes.
  • Ask another colleague to take notes; particularly commitments.
  • Ask all of them to jump in whenever it seems appropriate to help the conversation.

Use the five steps of closure: (For more detailed bullet points, please see my HBR article: “The Right Way to End a Meeting.”)

  • Check for completion.
  • Check for alignment.
  • Agree on next steps.
  • Reflect on the value of what you accomplished.
  • Check for acknowledgements.
  • Effective wrap-up will make up for missteps during the meeting.

Good luck and Happy Halloween!