Project Management Tips
Think about the last few meetings you set up or were invited to attend. Were the meetings helpful, productive, to the point? Or, were the meeting attendees confrontational, disinterested, seemingly miserable? Do you know how to tell if a meeting was useful and whether the attendees were involved?
Successful meetings are more than just people getting together to discuss a topic. All too often the goal of a meeting is not attained, resulting in a loss of everyone’s time. The purpose of this article is to give tips to the project manager on how to conduct more meaningful, effective meetings.
A successful meeting begins with understanding its anatomy and we begin by doing an overview of its major components:
- Meeting Setup and Logistics
- Meeting Preparation
- Meeting Facilitation
- Meeting Follow-Up
Meeting Setup and Logistics
Welcome to the new meeting reality in the global economy – virtual meetings with remote teams. Working within this new paradigm requires a little retooling of basic meeting management principles.
Time – Your meeting attendees may be located in remote locations, possibly halfway across the world. For instance, 7:00 AM in the morning in California might be 7:30 PM in India, or 10:00 PM in Singapore. Be democratic and let people decide whether they want to have a meeting late at night or early in the morning. With regular meetings, you can alternate meeting times, so that you aren’t always asking the same people to alter their work schedules for your meeting.
Location – Within the new paradigm, meeting rooms could be considered passé. However, nothing beats face to face communication, so you should still schedule a room if possible.
Duration – You may have been in meetings that lasted one hour, a full day, or even one week. They all serve purposes, but longer meetings are harder to plan if you need to invite remote attendees. A well thought out agenda is the first step to an efficient meeting. Think about what you want to accomplish and how to get there. Generally speaking, the shorter, the better.
Attendees – Make sure the people invited to the meeting really need to be there. Use the following criteria to make your guest list:
- Purpose of meeting (why is meeting needed)
- Meeting Context (importance, urgency)
- Stakeholder analysis (affected groups)
- Objectives (what will be accomplished and how).
Be judicious about who you decide to invite. Do you want someone there who will only provide opposition to your meeting goals or add extraneous non-relevant information?
Book the Meeting – Send out meeting notices at least a couple of days before the meeting. Unless it is an emergency, most people prefer not to look at email in the morning and discover that there is a meeting in a few hours.
Preparing for a meeting means being a good scout. Here are some tips for earning your Meeting merit badge.
Meeting Reminders – Send a reminder email to people the day before the meeting with the materials to be covered during the meeting. Make sure to send it early enough so that people in time zones ahead of you have time to receive it before the end of their day.
Meeting Tools – Take a personal walkthrough of all the equipment that needs to be working to make your meeting go well:
- Network connection and cable
- Digital camera to take a picture of the whiteboard
- Web conferencing system for sharing documents remotely from your computer such as Microsoft NetMeeting, Cisco MeetingPlace, and WebEx, GoToMeeting.com
- Video conferencing system for those with budgets that allow for it (Halo by Hewlett-Packard, TelePresence by Cisco, IPELA by Sony).
Have a backup plan for any of the above; the plan could be as easy as knowing who to call for help.
Meeting Supplies – Bring along extra supplies to your meeting. One tool to never be without: Post-it notes! You can stick them on the wall to make lists, or send them around the table to write suggestions on.
Prep the Stage – In a meeting that you know will be contentious, or will require a difficult decision, take the time to understand people’s positions before the meeting and try to get their pre-agreement (not unlike sending a bill before the U.S. legislature).
A final note: Cancel the meeting if the stars are against the meeting happening. It is better to reschedule than to have a bad meeting.
Facilitating the Meeting
As the meeting facilitator, there are a few rules you should follow:
- Show up on time.
- Follow your agenda. It is your meeting roadmap.
- Communicate your goals at the start of the meeting and let people know that your intent is to get done with the meeting quickly. Ask for full attention, and no interruptions.
- Keep a list of whoever attends the meeting. You may also want to do a roll call after the meeting, just to see who stayed around.
Facilitation Techniques – Keep the discussion focused with these facilitation techniques:
- Start the meeting by stating the meeting goals, gain consensus on goals upfront
- Guide the meeting from one topic to another
- Criticize ideas, not people
- Propose solutions
- Acknowledge, deal with, or defer issues
- Paraphrase and repeat important points or agreements
- Boomerang questions back to the person asking it or to the entire team
- Get verbal confirmations.
These techniques are especially useful when communicating with remote participants, where you do not have the benefit of body language and visual cues.
If the meeting gets stuck along the way, try these tips for keeping the meeting moving:
- Put hot-button issues into the parking lot, and plan for a follow-up discussion offline.
- If there are runaway conversations, remind people that one conversation at a time will get you through the meeting faster.
- Not getting any feedback? Try the silent treatment.
- If you are having trouble understanding what people are saying due to a bad telephone line or some other problem, ask them to send you an instant message or email with the information you need.
Practicing good meeting follow-up is just as important as planning and having the meeting. A meeting is useless if you cannot remember what was said or what decisions were made.
Document the Meeting – Document everything. Remember, if you do not write it down, you cannot hold anyone accountable. Come up with a simple meeting agenda and meeting note format – nothing fancy.
How do you find the time to get meeting notes done?
- Get a scribe.
- Take notes during the meeting and send it out directly afterward. One trick is to type your notes into your agenda while sharing on screen, and voila, it turns directly into your minutes.
- Set aside a half hour at the end of the day to write up the notes.
Meeting notes should contain:
- Meeting attendees
- Discussion points
- Issues list
- Action items with due date
- Confirmation that meeting objectives (exit criteria) were met.
Send out Meeting Notes – Make sure to email the meeting notes to all of the original invited attendees directly afterward (same day is best) and ask people to read and send corrections as needed.
Think Before You Book
As you start planning your next meeting, keep the new virtual meeting paradigm in mind. Think about saving time and resources – if your meeting is only for informational purposes, could you accomplish the same goal by just sending an email?
If the only way to a “meeting of the minds” is through an actual meeting, keep the points covered in this article handy:
|Meeting Phases||Points to Remember|
|Meeting Setup and Logistics||Time, Location, Duration, Attendees, Book the Meeting|
|Meeting Preparation||Meeting Reminders, Tools, Supplies, Prep the Stage|
|Meeting Facilitation||Follow The Agenda and Lead the Meeting|
|Meeting Follow Up||Document and Send Out Meeting Notes|
As project and business managers, let’s challenge ourselves to manage with fewer, shorter, and more effective meetings.
Another meeting? Go for it!
If you would like more information and/or mentoring on meeting facilitation, please send an email to[email protected]. We welcome your questions, comments and feedback.
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