Does anyone really like meetings? To me, they are necessary evils. Unless it’s my meeting, then it’s just plain necessary. You know what I mean, right? It’s like a phone call. One person is making the call and wants to make the call. The other person being called might be in the middle of a task and is probably being interrupted.
Truly good, worthwhile project meetings don’t come easy. They don’t happen by accident. They are planned, executed and are consistently facilitated…by good facilitators. That’s what you and I need to be…good facilitators. As project managers, we often aren’t the subject matter experts (SMEs). Rather we are the facilitators and we need those subject matter experts in the seats participating in our meetings and providing information and decision making.
For me, the process to a good meeting…beginning to end…involves four distinct steps. Let’s discuss…
Good planning is the first step to facilitating a great meeting that accomplishes objects, gets good attendance and participation, and ensures expectations are set and everyone is on the same page. Make sure you plan well on when to have it, what to cover, that your topics are in line with what will give you the results you need in the meeting and that there are specific objectives. The worst meetings – the ones none of us want to attend – are those meeting where it is apparent that this is just a meeting with no clear objectives or outcomes. Holding meetings just to hold meetings or to lead to another meeting frustrate attendees and result in lower attendance and participation in your future meetings.
With objects set, create an agenda that will be sent out to attendees in advance and will drive the meeting. For projects, this will usually tie into the status report as well and together those two documents should drive the meeting. The key is to start on time, end on time and stick to the planned timeframe and topics for the meeting. A good, targeted, concise agenda can help you accomplish all of that. By sending it out in advance – usually one day in advance, if possible – your attendees will know the topics, will be expected to be prepared and ready to participate and provide input, and will have a good idea of what you’re trying to accomplish in the meeting.
Facilitation and Notes
Next comes the actual meeting. As I already mentioned, it is critical that you start and end on time as often as possible. You need to gain the reputation as a great meeting facilitator and that not only means that your meetings are worth attending and actively participating in but also that you stick to your timeframes so everyone can confidently schedule things around your meetings…and not have to show up late, leave early, or skip your meeting. Hold them in the morning…not after lunch when everyone starts to fall asleep. Don’t stop the meeting to bring the latecomers up to date…make them ask the questions. And never – or almost never – cancel a regularly scheduled weekly meeting even if you have nothing to cover. At least have a 5 minute meeting to go around the room. That serves two purposes…it ensures nothing small falls through the cracks and it keeps the momentum going. When you start to cancel the regular meetings during the slow times, the attendees stop showing up and it’s hard to get them back.
The follow-up I will get to next will help fill in the gaps for those drones who like to show up late. And never be the doughnut or snack person. Don’t be that person who brings soda or water or food to the meetings for the attendees. It’s not about eating, it’s about information. And take great notes – usually using both the agenda and weekly project status report as the driving force behind the meeting discussions (unless the meeting was specifically called to address an issue or decision that needs to be made).
Finally – and this may be the most important step – follow-up after the meeting. Don’t bother with a big wrap up – just always be that guy who takes good notes and sends out notes after the meeting to all the attendees (and intended attendees who didn’t show up). Ask that they confirm the information or supply you with any revisions by noon the next day. The goal with any meeting is to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it’s over. This followup with your well-documented notes will always help to ensure that happens.
Summary / Call for Input
Project management – at least in my opinion – is all about good communication. Good, effective, and efficient communication. And the overall responsibility for that communication rests with the project manager. And one key component of project communication is the project meetings that have to happen throughout the engagement. Plan well, execute well and follow-up to ensure that you have the best and most productive meetings possible.
Readers – what advice do you have for everyone here regarding project meetings? What would you add to this list that makes your meetings great?
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