Meeting Goals to Maximize Results
Meetings. Even the name is misleading. Your goal is not to meet, it’s to address issues, make decisions, and move your project forward. Few occasions are more frustrating than spending an hour in a poorly-structured meeting with unclear goals and no resolution by the end. Face time with stakeholders is valuable and often hard to get. Build a reputation for holding effective meetings by using the following tips that encourage strong attendance and produce actionable items that get results.
Provide clarity and purpose
How many times have you found yourself in a meeting where someone says, “so…why are we here?” Answer that question up front with a descriptive meeting title. Avoid broad titles such as “Process discussion,” and opt for one that narrows the topic such as “Membership Renewal Process Options.” State objectives clearly in the invite. Do you want attendees to narrow down a list of options, or is the goal to agree on the best option by the meeting end? Reduce the chance of an attendee assuming he or she is optional by specifically addressing your invite list. E.g., “I’m including the membership team, but also John smith, who has a thorough understanding of customer needs.” Send the agenda ahead of time to encourage participants to organize their thoughts before the meeting for maximum contribution.
Follow the agenda, but facilitate for change
Agendas can be ambitious and not all topics may be addressed in the scheduled time. Put the most critical items at the top of the agenda and know what must be addressed and what can be deferred. This can help determine whether an unplanned item should be addressed at the expense of already scheduled agenda topic. Detailed discussions are great, but if an issue is not going to be resolved in the room, don’t be afraid to step in and suggest a follow up discussion off line. Record the follow up action, and keep the agenda moving.
A picture tells 1,000 words
A demo of work in progress or a process diagram for consideration shows forward progress, and increases the level of engagement by meeting participants. It focuses discussion and encourages feedback that can verify you’re on the right track, or indicate a course correction is needed.
Assume a virtual team
Even if all participants are local, it’s wise to plan ahead in the event someone will need to dial in. Include audio and visual to ensure all team members can remain engaged and participate fully. Remote members can easily feel discouraged if they can’t contribute, and they may be less willing to join remotely at the next meeting.
No status meetings!
Use face to face meetings to discuss direction and to get decisions. You can encourage questions about status reports if something is unclear, but don’t rehash what participants can read. Save statuses for written reports, and reach out ahead of meetings if you’re unsure of progress. Structure meetings to get work done, not to talk about getting working done.
Verify and Document
Strive to leave the room with no ambiguity about what got accomplished – or what didn’t get accomplished. Repeat decisions and paraphrase ideas to ensure you understand them. If you are uncertain, chances are others in the room have questions as well. Every meeting should be followed up with written notes that contain at least the following: the date of the meeting and attendee full names, the meeting purpose or main theme, any decisions that resulted from the meeting as well as reasons behind them, and action items with owners. Questions about why decisions were made and who was involved often arise long after meeting participants have forgotten, and good notes provide this view to any reader.
Continue adding value after the meeting, by ensuring ownership of follow up items and deadlines to resolve them are clear. Communicate outcomes to the meeting participants to validate their time contributed to productive actions.
Thoughtful meeting preparation, skilled facilitation, and meeting follow up will cement your reputation as project manager who values others’ time. By setting clear expectations and emphasizing decisions instead of discussion you can boost attendance and get the maximum out of meetings.
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