April 16, 2014

Meeting management = being considerate

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The more experience I get with working on project teams, the more frustrated I get with the way most of those teams go about their work.  I think we’ve all had enough of meetings that never start on time, long conversations that involve only one-third of the people in attendance, and the need to call another meeting since this meeting didn’t get anything accomplished.

Project overrun, and/or become a hurried pile of chaotic activities, all squished together in hopes of meeting some arbitrary deadline.  So, here’s a few simple things I think project managers can do to make sure their teams, and their deliverables, are a little bit better off:

First – adopt the principle of “Respect for People” from the Shingo model.  Then, realize that the most precious resource in the world is time.  If you embrace those two simple things, everything else follows.

Next, don’t call meetings.  Don’t hold meetings, don’t even plan meetings.  Design meetings.  For each item on your agenda, determine how long you want to talk about it, and then move on.  Establish that others are expected to do so as well.  It’s OK if people come in late, things happen, but that doesn’t necessitate delaying the start nor does it require a review to bring any latecomers up to speed.  Just let them find a seat and catch up on their own.  Consider a college lecture – the instructor didn’t stop when someone came in late – neither should you.

Also, do a check-in at the start of the meeting, especially if it’s a small group.  Give everyone 30-60 seconds to answer, “What’s on your mind today?”  and write it down, too.  Publish it in the minutes.  For one, it gives everyone to share some personal and professional frustrations or successes, which is good for team building.  Also, it lets everyone get a little off their chest, clear the air, and re-focus on the meeting at hand.

The purpose of every meeting is to exit with a list of assigned actions!  KEEP THIS SACRED.  If you call people just to broadcast information, send an email if you must – go and see them if you can.  Not only is it nicer, it’s also much more effective – because you can focus on just that person’s concerns.  If you have a large group you need to send a message to, then you had better leave time for questions and answers.  If no one asks any questions – you screwed up.  Either they don’t know what question to ask, or they are afraid to.  Use that as a cue that you need to learn how to ignite people’s curiosity, not squash it with dictates.

At the end of the meeting, do a positives / negatives session for 5 minutes.  What about the conduct of the meeting went well?  What went wrong?  Everything is fair game here.  Remember to be humble.  You’re not supposed to talk at this point, only record.  Use it as a chance to learn.  Let’s go back to college again, just for a second, and think about those teacher evaluations.  Make sure you get good comments, though, and not just rubber stamps and indifferent head nods.

Did I say minutes?  Yes – write up the minutes after the meeting and send them around.  Include the meeting’s purpose, it’s duration, who attended, what was discussed, the results of the check-in, any action items and the results of the positive / negative session, too.

Just keep in mind that people have precious little time, and no one deserves to have something so precious wasted – and especially not because the person supposedly organizing an even couldn’t get his or her act together.  It’s just plain rude.  Don’t rely on your rank and title, either – just because you have a nice office doesn’t mean you have anything useful to say to everyone in the audience.  Some yes, others no – and it’s much harder than you think to know the difference.

Contrary to popular belief, communication is not the key to effectively managing a team.  What is?

Simply being considerate.

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