How to Get the Most Out of Team Meetings
As a project manager you know your primary responsibility and skill is communication. And you know a lot of your communication is done through team meetings. But, how can you be sure your team meetings are as effective as possible? Research shows most project managers believe their meetings are highly effective, yet most team participants rate meetings as less than effective. Why the difference of opinion? One thought is whoever is doing the most talking believes (disproportionately) they are being effective; the opposite is true. If you’re going over the project plan and asking for status updates, is this the best use of your team’s valuable time? If you think your meetings are productive you probably aren’t soliciting feedback nor looking for opportunities to improve. I’ve utilized a 4-part process to continually improve my meetings; Assess, Prepare, Facilitate and Reassess.
Better project meeting leadership requires better self-observation. I take a few minutes (even schedule it) after every meeting to reflect. I think about team member behavior and interaction, my facilitation and the content provided. Were team members engaged, and if not, what did I do to improve engagement? Did I seek opinions from all participants using a variety of styles? What did I do to maintain a positive attitude, full participation and healthy debate? In addition to these times of reflection, I periodically check-in with team members. I’ve used surveys, focus-groups (for larger projects) or face-to-face (with team leads). Once I’ve reflected on my own and solicited feedback from others, I identify my strengths and weaknesses and create a plan for improvement. This plan is the foundation of my preparation.
Before any meeting I write down the purpose and goals I hope to achieve. I use the SMART format in documenting meeting goals. I’ll often ask others for agenda items, which promotes relevance and increases ownership and engagement. After I’ve aligned on the purpose and goals (and written them down) I determine who should be invited. I typically refrain from having a set group of attendees. I invite team members who can contribute or have a significant interest in the subject. If attendees are multi-tasking it may be because the agenda items are not relevant. I’ve also had attendees come in and out for certain relevant portions of the meeting. If this isn’t disruptive, it is something to consider. For small meetings, consider a ‘walking meeting’. For larger groups, if the meeting is 30 minutes or less, consider a standing meeting. I try to be very purposeful with my meeting cadence. Team members can suffer from “meeting fatigue” if you hold weekly status meetings when less frequent meetings would be just as useful. Once you’ve completely prepared, you’re ready to facilitate a great team meeting.
Facilitation starts the moment team members walk (or dial) in. I try to greet people when they arrive, express gratitude for the investment of time, offer refreshments and ask attendees to silence phones. For recurring meetings, we mutually agree upon guidelines and document in the Team Charter. I think all these tactics help people feel welcome and ready to concentrate on the task at hand. Once the conversation starts I take on a stewardship role. I lead through facilitation by asking questions and actively listening to responses. In a supportive role, I ensure others are heard and they leave feeling committed to our outcomes. To get participation I ask for a show of hands, use chat functionality or post-it notes and even facilitate brainwriting (individuals reflect on an idea before sharing). I also use body language to signal when someone may be monopolizing the conversation by slightly turning to others for additional input. I reinforce positive behavior by offering encouraging comments. If I want the meeting to address a specific issue I typically create a slide listing all the potential alternatives. Finally, I’m careful to separate the evaluation of an issue from decision making. This way the meeting participants don’t feel rushed into any decisions. Once I’ve conducted a series of meetings on a project, I reassess my initial thoughts and look to continuously improve the process and my facilitation skills.
When I proactively diagnose my meeting ‘performance’ and learn to better prepare for and facilitate my meetings, there is always room for improvement. I ask team members to comment on how my meetings are going. I ask for straightforward comments and show true appreciation for honest feedback. I’ve found team members are more open with me and bring up issues not related to the project. I’m encouraging reflection, learning, flexibility, taking reasonable risks, and not being complacent. I’m rewarded with team members who are proactive problem-solvers.
Leading meetings might seem like a small part of your role as a project manager. But positive change in this one area can lead to real gains for your project and organization. As a project manager you should seek continuous improvement, and one area is in meeting management. Approach your meetings like your projects. Have a plan, reflect on plan performance, make changes when necessary and continuously look for feedback to improve meeting management. The investment in time will pay huge dividends for your meetings, your team members, and your project.