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Sitting in the boardroom at yet another meeting, the Vice President asked each of us, "Have you finished this week's assignment?" Each one in turn replied they had not done what was requested for the week. The VP asked, "How can we get more done around here?" to which we all replied, "Have fewer meetings!"
Unfortunately this is a true story, and all too often I hear the same complaint from other Project Managers. While you might not be able to change how your boss runs meetings, as a Professional Project Manager you have the opportunity to make your meetings an effective tool for managing your projects, so let's look at some tips for doing this well!
TIP #1: Begin with a clear objective. Sometimes a less experienced Project Manager invites me to a meeting and I ask, "What do you hope to accomplish in this meeting? What is the purpose of the meeting?" So, even before sending out a meeting invite, ask yourself, "Is this meeting necessary?" and "What do I hope to accomplish?"
TIP #2: Determine and communicate the type of meeting it will be. There are 4 types of meeting. Do not mix these in one sitting, but pick the one which applies. If necessary schedule another meeting for a different type of meeting. The types of meetings are:
1. Information exchange. Sharing what you know. A give and take.
2 Information giving. Making an announcement.
3. Idea generation. Getting new ideas. Brainstorming.
4. Problem solving. Decision making.
TIP #3: Decide who should attend. Who are the Stakeholders affected by changes? Which Stakeholders can help solve the problem? Each attendee needs to have a defined role, and know what that is, to ensure proper attendance and participation. Resist the temptation to invite everyone. Click here to see helpful information on this topic. If required invitees do not attend your meeting, discuss it with him/ her first and if necessary escalate the matter to a higher level.
TIP #4: Use an agenda. This is your meeting planning tool. Distribute the proposed agenda in advance; and if documents will be discussed, distribute these well ahead of the meeting, so the Stakeholders have time time to review and to prepare questions and answers. Ask Stakeholders for agenda input well before the meeting then re-issue if necessary. Make sure all Stakeholders have an agenda at the meeting. Often I start a meeting by saying, "The purpose of this meeting is...." Saying this will help meeting participants to focus on: why they are there and what the objective is. Starting a meeting this way will help you to keep everyone on topic, and to finish your meeting on time.
TIP #5: Be time conscious. In your invitation, have a clear start time and end time for the meeting. Then start on time and end on time. Do not spend time recapping for late comers. Monitor the time progress once or twice during your meeting to make sure you are tracking toward finishing on time. You might need to speed up, or defer some items until a later meeting. If an item will require additional time, schedule another meeting. Alternately, you can start with the highest priority item, and end when you run out of time. People will be more likely to attend your meetings if you respect their time by sticking to the start and finish times. Try to keep meetings to one hour maximum as "The mind can only absorb what the seat if the pants can endure!"
TIP #6: In person. Despite our technological advances, human beings are social creatures. We learn to trust and understand each other when we share space together, and your most successful meetings will be in-person. In person we exchange the maximum amount of non-verbal communications such as body language, tone of voice, tempo of speech, hesitation, and the touch of a hand shake. Video conferencing is the second-best medium since we cannot see what is happening "off-camera," so we exchange less non-verbal communication. For these reasons telephone is the third-best medium for a successful meeting. An interesting study is found here.
TIP #7: Pick the right location. Conducting your meeting in the right location helps to ensure its success. For the room itself, you will want to consider: room size, chair arrangement, audio-visual equipment, lighting, and quietness. For the room location look at convenience of travel for Stakeholders, proximity to the job-site (where the project execution is, or will be), and available parking.
TIP #8: During the meeting, facilitate so everyone gets an opportunity to be heard. At the meeting outset, make it clear what the ground rules are. Stakeholders become frustrated when one person monopolizes a meeting. This leads to either arguments, or a shut-down of participation. As the meeting facilitator you need to be kind but firm when this happens. You can say out loud, "Thank you very much for your contribution, Mr. Smith, but we really need to allow time for some other Stakeholders to be heard." Recently, I saw this occur in a public meeting and the facilitator added, "I would be pleased to meet you after the meeting if you would like." He then sought out that individual to listen to whatever they had to say.
TIP #9: Keep it interesting. No one likes to listen to the meeting chair drone on and on. Keep your voice clear and expressive. Use multi-media such as videos, photos, graphs and so on. Consider passing the lead to other Stakeholders throughout the meeting to "break it up". (Remember to ask the other Stakeholders in advance of the meeting so no one is "put on the spot.") Watch body language and adjust as necessary. Maybe a break is needed, or it's time to move to another item.
TIP #10: Minutes. This is your follow-up tool. If possible assign a minute taker (not you) at the beginning of the meeting, freeing you up to dedicate your attention to facilitating the meeting. At the end of each item, and/or at the end of the meeting you can ask the minute taker to summarize the item(s) as confirmation of understanding. The minutes should contain basic information about the meeting : Objective, Date, Time, Location, and Attendees. For follow up, minutes should also contain an action task (to do) for each incomplete item, a due date for that task, and a task owner. As well as helping hold Stakeholders accountable for their tasks, the minutes also provide a confirmation of what was discussed and decided. Send the minutes to all invitees and any other interested Stakeholders. Try to get your minutes distributed within 48 hours of the meeting, so they take effect as soon as possible and Stakeholders have time to offer corrections well before the next meeting. At the next meeting, consider asking the task owner to lead any discussion on that item.
TIP #11: If you are new at meeting facilitation, you might consider asking for feedback from the attendees about how the meeting went. Consider this as constructive input for your continuous improvement.
A meeting that is well planned, well run, and properly followed up will accomplish the meeting objective. It will leave your Stakeholders with feelings: of accomplishment, that the time was well spent, and that a sensible process has been followed. Well managed meetings motivate Stakeholders to attend and contribute at future meetings.
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