There are more books than I can count or read on the subject of running effective meetings and all of them contain suggestions for making meetings more effective. With all of that, none of us should ever have to attend another ineffective meeting. So, why do I sense that many of us are still frustrated by the time that we are spending in meetings?
Not all meetings are alike. In a previous blog post, I covered eight basic suggestions for running more effective meetings. In today’s post, I want to look at the different kinds of project meetings and offer some specific planning tips.
Effective meetings provide more value than the sum of the labor costs of all attendees. Digest that thought for a bit and think about the last meeting you went to. Look around the room at those in attendance and mentally add up the total labor costs of those in the room. Did the value of that meeting exceed your number? If so, congratulations! That was meeting time well spent. If not, read on for ways to improve your meetings.
In every project I’ve ever worked on, there are times when we need to talk with others to identify the answers to questions, get to know people, and understand perspectives and problems.
- Have a clear list of the questions that need to be covered. It can be tempting to just list topics and talk around those topics for extended periods of time. And if you are getting good information from the person you are interviewing, I’m not going to suggest that you rudely interrupt them, as we’ve all seen in the political debates this season. I am going to suggest that unless you’ve identified the questions that need answers, you may not know good information when you see it. So, write down your questions in advance.
- Consider sharing that list with your interviewee(s). This gives the interviewee(s) time to prepare ahead and hopefully, provide better answers.
- Listen to what is not being said. The best journalists are very good at filtering out the unessential noise and capturing the essential meat of the matter.
- Document and share. The notes from these meetings need to be documented and shared with others on your team. And if you copy the interviewee(s), you may uncover any misunderstandings.
Whether you are planning a project, planning the needs for a specific deliverable, or planning for your capstone event, planning meetings are one of those necessities. The trick is to make them as effective as possible.
- Identify a clear objective(s) for your meeting. You can’t do it all in one meeting. What do you want to accomplish in this meeting? Notice I didn’t ask what you wanted to discuss. What decisions need to be made? What information needs to be identified?
- Have a clear, documented, and shared agenda. Just the process of writing out your objective and the topics to be covered will force you to think ahead about the meeting. Distribute the meeting agenda in advance of the meeting for others to think ahead as well.
- Use time blocks. Include them on your agenda. It’s always interesting to me how much can be accomplished when we block out a designated time to accomplish a purpose that we are clear on. Spending time just discussing things doesn’t necessarily move the ball forward.
- End your meeting with a clear set of next steps for everyone. More planning, more work, and more meetings follow most planning meetings. Is everyone clear on the next steps? When is the next meeting?
Standing meetings are a concept borrowed from the Scrum world, and they can add a lot of value. It completely depends on the team, the project, and the objectives. Perhaps standing up for meetings insures that people don’t fall in love with their own voices?
Standing meetings are very short meetings, generally held daily. There are three questions that get answered in every standing meeting:
- What have you accomplished since the last meeting?
- What do you plan to accomplish next?
- And, what problems have arisen?
Typically the standing meeting is not the time for discussing or solving problems. It is a time for identifying problems. That said, I’ve seen a lot of teams, remote teams especially, use that time to get clarity on a problem. It can be more effective to talk through issues, rather than being distracted by texts and emails flying around all day long.
My caveat is to quickly keep a close eye on the clock and try hard to keep those discussions from turning the meeting into an hour-long conversation. Understand the problem quickly and ask yourself if you really need everyone there for the discussion. Standing up helps!
Status meetings are a favorite buzzword in corporate America, and I’m not a huge fan. Status reports, yes! But to just sit around and discuss how we are doing, without a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, or tequila shots feels like a waste of time. What I like to see are status reports followed by a combination retrospective and planning meetings. I have coined a phrase for this: checkpoint meetings.
I use this term in my Smart Projex software. Checkpoint meetings are a time when teams gather to assess the accomplishments, identify the lessons that have been learned, review what it’s costing the client, and identify and analyze the project risks. Additionally, the team plans the next time block of work.
Everyone is different and there are people who enjoy working in tandem, in the same space with a small group people, all trying to accomplish a purpose. I’m not one of them. I need to be by myself to think, read, write, strategize, and accomplish objectives. If you are one of those who enjoy working meetings, then by all means, make them effective.
- Identify and document the work that must be accomplished. Most people, when they are working solo, have some kind of task list that they keep handy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s written on a paper notepad; or a software program such as Nozbe, Basecamp, Asana, or Jira; or a list that you put in a calendar appointment on your electronic calendar. The point is to have a clear view of what you need to accomplish. Talk is cheap. Accomplishments that matter move the ball forward. It’s not about checking off boxes, it’s about checking off the right boxes.
- Quit at the end of the time block. Not only do I recommend blocking out a time and a clear purpose, I recommend that when the “buzzer goes off,” you wrap up your work. At that point, I’d recommend that you document where you were when you quit working, particularly when you are doing technical work. These notes about where you were when you quit will come in very handy when you go back to the work. Quitting at the end of the time block shows respect for everyone’s time. All of us work on projects that will be there tomorrow. Our friends and family may not.
All of us, at some point, will be called on to give a presentation. It may be a small presentation on a problem that has recently surfaced or it may be the capstone of a huge project. Presentations fall into several categories:
- Information dissemination
- Consensus building
If your hope is to get buy-in on a presentation, you’d better be compelling. There are alternatives to a set of rich-text PowerPoint slides. Have you considered beginning with a Prezi or an animated video to introduce the presentation and then, moving to a discussion with activities?
According to author and communications professional, Eric Bergman, “cognitive science tells us that humans cannot read and listen at the same time. In fact, trying to do both is absolutely the least effective option and a virtual waste of time—terrible news for the “average” slide-driven presentation delivered in boardrooms, meeting rooms, training rooms and conference halls.”
Is your organization running meetings with a value that exceeds the aggregate labor costs for everyone in the room? If not, I offer coaching and consulting to help you get there. Give me a call.