31 May 7 Secrets on Running Effective Project Team Meetings
These 7 tips will help you to duck and dodge the most common meeting quirks and bloopers and have you leading project team meetings like a rock star. At the end of the day, running effective meetings is about planning. As a project manager, communication is your key skillset so you will want to have this vitally important area dialed in. Your success is having successfully met your goal for that meeting.
1. Begin with the End in Mind
In a yoga class, the instructor typically begins the session with asking you to set an intention. You just want to jump into the cool stretches but they challenge you to take a deep breath and really consider what your real intention for being there is. There is power behind setting an intention because it gives you a point of focus and a clear outcome. You essentially train yourself to stay committed to that intention throughout the your time on the mat. I tend to borrow from different disciplines to improve my Project Management skills and adopt them. I have used this technique when running my meetings and seen great results and I know you will too!
Have you ever gone along to a meeting that took one hour out of your day and achieved nothing? If yes, chances are that there were no clear objectives for the meeting. Don’t let this happen to you!
Start with a key phrase: “The outcome of this meeting is to…”. Or you can say, “The intention of this meeting is to…” Then I state the very clear goal, or intention, you want for that meeting: like solving a problem or a key decision that needs to be made. When the intended outcome is clear, it helps the meeting run a lot smoother, get to the answers a lot quicker, and saves time. They now have a clear target on what they should be working collaboratively to achieve without getting distracted. This helps a meeting begin with the end in mind!
2. Set a Clear Agenda
Meetings without an agenda will quickly drift off-topic, take much longer to complete, and don’t get results. Take few minutes to craft a list of topics to be discussed. Three or four bullet points is a good place to start. Next to the agenda topic, indicate who will drive that discussion point or who will be a key contributor. This will help folks to clearly understand that their input is needed. If it is a topic that will require everyone’s input, challenge yourself to think of who are the key stakeholders. In most discussions, there tends to be two or three key people that provide input and others are spectators. Lastly, give indicative timings for each item and allow for slippage.
For frequent and re-occurring meetings, like Steering Committee (executive), Weekly Project Team (Waterfall), Daily SCRUM Standup (Agile) meetings, you can save time by creating a meeting template with the general agenda topics outlined within your re-occurring calendar invite. Once you have that in place, updating the canned agenda becomes a matter of cleaning up and tidying a few words. The habit of sending the agenda the day before should still hold even for re-occurring meetings. Things change, and your team is best positioned to provide feedback to you on the agenda you send beforehand so that you can have a nice crisp and accurate agenda to work from. Best yet, they will feel more engaged in the meeting!
Once your agenda is in place, circulate the agenda in advance, at least 1 day before the meeting. In my experience, most people enjoy giving their input and are happy to let you know if there is a missing agenda topic or any missing individual that should attend. I always welcome their feedback and include their input to encourage that behavior since it will help drive an effective meeting. Stay away from the habit of sending an agenda the day of, or just 30 minutes before, the scheduled start time of the meeting. You want to give yourself enough time to shine.
For the meetings that you are requested to attend that do not have an agenda, be sure to ask, “Can you please send me an agenda for the meeting so that I can prepare?” This will help set an effective and productive organizational culture. It starts with you.
3. Get the Right People to Attend
Now that you have a clear outcome and an agenda, ensure you have the right people to attend your meeting. Try to limit the people attending the meeting to those that will help drive the decision-making process. For those that just need the information of what was discussed, send them the minutes which captures the discussion points (more on that later) after the meeting is over. A good rule of thumb is that sharing information, such as general status, is best done with email. Decision-making, problem-solving, or sharing sensitive information, is done with virtual or in-person meetings.
The people in the meeting room can help with the effectiveness. If there are decisions that need someone from a different department, a manager, or someone that is more senior, ensure that you confirm their attendance beforehand. Make sure the key person that you need input from is present otherwise no significant decisions can be made. The team will otherwise get stuck in a loop of discussion that does not get anywhere. Taking a few minutes for this due diligence will avoid having a frustrated team making you a culprit of another inefficient meeting.
4. Aim at Starting and Ending on Time
Make sure that it is clear to everyone that your meetings will be starting and finishing on time. Encourage that behavior. The inverse is that a behavior that encourages tardiness by starting late and ending late can create a domino effect across the organization. There is nothing more frustrating than people turning up 15 minutes after the scheduled start time and the meeting running over by 15 to 30 minutes. The next meeting will begin late because resources were tied up finishing up your meeting. A culture of tardiness can permeate throughout an organization and adversely impacts productively and effectiveness.
One way to be respectful of others’ time is to do a time check five minutes prior to the end of the meeting. Let them know there are five minutes remaining to the meeting and that is the time you should begin wrapping up. If there are still topics left to discuss, that is the time where you begin wrapping up. The alternative is to ask if it is okay for specific decision makers to remain, and set the expectations on how much further you expect the meeting to run and ask if it is okay.
Starting the meeting on time and ending on time will quickly enhance your reputation as an organized project manager. If you are running a large meeting, consider designating a time keeper. If managing meetings to the clock is challenging, the parking lot approach can help you steer clear of agenda crashers!
5. Manage Off-Topic Items with a “Parking Lot”
A parking lot is a helpful too that helps you keep the discussion focused on the agenda, helps ensure the meeting ends on time, and also acknowledges important points raised by the project team and stakeholders.
At the beginning of the meeting you will want to set expectations on the agenda items that will be discussed and explain that any other items outside of the agenda will be placed on a parking lot, to be discussed at a later time. Let them know that this will help keep the meeting on-track.
I have used the parking lot approach for in-person meetings using a flip-chart and marker to jot down any points that attendees have raised that would veer the discussion off topic. This technique helps people see that their point has been heard and will be addressed at a later time. At the end of the meeting, I capture these to follow-up and include them in the minutes as key points raised. For virtual meetings, you can be sure to repeat the point and let the attendees know that you have taken notes for follow-up.
6. Take Minutes
Have you ever gone to a family or kids party where you play that game of whispering a list of things into your neighbor’s ear and then after a few folks repeat the relatively simple list down the chain to their neighbors the end story is vastly different from the beginning? Well…a few hours after the meeting and things can feel quite similar to that game. Get ahead of this by taking minutes and sharing it out with all the meeting attendees shortly after your meeting, no more than an hour after your meeting, to ensure everyone is on the same page on what was discussed, key decisions, and agreed upon action items.
I am always happy to discuss any changes we need to make as a team, but my minutes are the one source of truth to go back to when people walk away with different impressions of what was said and what went on.
I can’t stress how many times taking minutes has helped clarify doubts and questions from stakeholders. Blurred lines occur after a few days when decisions were made. I have seen stakeholders with creative imaginations about what was decided and agreed upon, in a past meeting, that somehow skew in their favor. However, when I re-send them the meeting minutes, I swear the heavens open up and I hear a harmonious chorus of angels harps. Minutes have certainly been my saving grace more times that I care to admit.
Key items to capture in the minutes are: meeting attendees, a one-sentence summary of the intention of the meeting, key decisions made, and action items. Try not to make minutes laborious. Remember, often times you are running the meeting and are taking the minutes as well. In past projects with larger projects I have had the luxury of adding a resource, like a Business Analyst, whose purpose in the meeting was to take minutes but in other projects I have not been as spoiled. I have learned to take accurate notes that get to the point. That’s all you need anyway.
7. Follow-Up on Action Items
Effective meetings typically have some follow-up items that were discussed. Be sure to capture these in an Action Item list. Typically, projects have an action item list which is no more than a simple excel spreadsheet with the action description, the person that owns that action, and the target completion date. Each item has a status of open or closed to help you keep track of in progress activities to manage.
Following up in a timely way is important in the context of meeting management. For the best results, follow up either by making a phone call or an email on the same day as the meeting so that the owner of the action item is aware of the expectations.
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