How to make the most from Project Management Meetings

If you are spending a lot of time in meetings, then it would be a good idea to try and get the most out of them. It is well known that meetings for meetings sake is a waste of time, erodes productivity and hence becomes a liability. However, meetings which are constructive and produce results are invaluable, but how is that fine balance achieved?  A project management meeting can be divided into three parts, one that obtains a result before the meeting commences the contents of the meeting and finally the actions from the meeting.

Being prepared for the meeting is the first step, once the meeting invite is accepted, then make the most of any available time leading up to the meeting to prepare. This will ensure that time is being used to good effect. Read the agenda and any accompanying documentation; think through which parts are relevant and where more information is required. This may seem “common sense”, but it is a surprise on how this simple step is often missed.

The following may seem like a waste of time, but if decisions are really needed then a pre-meeting should be conducted. People often decide on the issues before they turn up. They use the meeting to showcase their stance. So, avoid the risk of the project meeting going off the rails by taking and setting the tone in advance. If holding a pre-meeting, meeting is not possible due to scheduling conflicts? Create a list of items to discuss by using online software that can be shared and collaborated on.

Good meeting etiquette is to ensure that the meeting starts on time and not to wait for late arrivals. If for any reason most of the participants are late, especially those participants who would have the most input, then don’t waste the time of the few who did turn up, defer the meeting. Or just ask the people who are present, “What could this group best use our time together for?” the answer may surprise.

As the chair of the meeting, it is understood attendees know each other, if this is not the case then do a round of introductions. If the attendees are not known, a suggestion to remember who they are is to draw a map of the table, in a notebook. Then fill in the map, so names and affiliations of everyone at the table are then known.

Commencing a meeting on a positive note normally draws out the best results. A great way to do this is to ask about people’s biggest successes since the last meeting. Determine the best method to obtain the information, after all meetings are conversations, and the structure should match this conversations need. Think about which format will work best for each agenda item:

  • One-way briefing or lecture
  • Free-flowing dialogue
  • Structured debate
  • Round-robin sharing

The workplace is made up of many different character types, and meetings are no different, it is normally quickly determine who the assertive, dominant, talk-about-everything people are. When they start to dominate or take away from the meetings desired outcome, thank them, and ask to hear from someone who does not contribute as readily. Those people have just as many good ideas and their opinions are equally helpful. So, invite them in, and give them space to be heard.

This will then lead to a positive culture in the meeting, which provides a real boost in the mood of the meeting. Creativity will increase and people will build on the germ of a good idea, rather than knocking it down. Rapidly call out any disrespectful behaviour and celebrate evidence-based and courageous contributions. Build on good ideas, and ask for concerns and counter-evidence when one idea seems to dominate

One method to remove any knee-jerk negativity is to give anyone a minimum of two minutes to make their point before anyone can jump in and challenge it. It compels people to listen and hear the whole point, rather than reacting to their first impression. It has been often found that during the course of the meeting its perspective can shift. As the person who leads the meeting can force a particular perspective, and stifle innovative thinking. Wherever possible, ask the question to which the statement itself is the answer. This lets the group find it for itself, or possibly a better answer is provided. Another approach is to ask the meeting about how other stakeholders would react to the conversation. Or what they would say if they were in the room. This achieves a better decision, perspective and richer solution.

Remember to remain alert to signs of rising tensions during the meeting, cool them early, before they have too much heat in them. Ask clarifying or checking questions that move people to become analytical about what they are saying. This dampens their emotional responses. One way to quell any tension is to label the emotions around the table and ask about them: “I see you are becoming agitated; can you tell me what’s triggered that?”

Ensure the meeting remains on track at all times reduce the chance of the meeting slipping, start each part of the meeting by writing the objective on a board. If the meeting goes off-track, allow anyone to re-assert the objective by pointing it out. And then place any new topic that has started to take over on a “parking lot” part of the board. Now the group can return to its original topic, and pick up on the parked idea later, if it is genuinely valuable.

A conclusion to the topic must be achieved before moving off the point. Summarize up to the point which was reached, and state clearly what the group needs to do to finish the conversation. Then kick-off again with an invitation to take the next step. The meeting should have a satisfactory conclusion, decisions need to be owned by the group, but individuals may assert their opposition. Actions need to be owned by the people who have accepted them. Before the meeting is disbanded, re-affirm decisions taken, and secondly firm up commitments to action.

Once the meeting is closed, then the following should occur, schedule some time shortly after the meeting to review notes, follow-up on actions, and consider what was learned. If time has been taken to prepare for the meeting then it should also be taken at its conclusion.

Meetings are just a way to disseminate information to a group and get feedback, too. Projectmanagementcompanion.com  has a selection of cloud-based project management software that helps plan, monitor and report on the progress of any project. There are great tools to control each stage of a project. A real-time dashboard not only provides up-to-the-minute data but makes graphs and charts targeted to meeting needs, whether with stakeholders or the team. Try one today free with a 30-day trial.

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