How to Run Project Meetings that Work
Few words elicit the same reactions of anger and frustration that the word meeting can provoke. People consider meetings to be everything from the last vestige of interpersonal contact in an increasingly technical society to the biggest time waster in business today.
You’ve probably been in meetings where you wanted to bang your head against the wall. Ever been to a meeting that didn’t start on time? How about a meeting that didn’t have an agenda or didn’t stick to the agenda it did have? Or how about a meeting at which people discussed issues you thought were resolved at a previous meeting?
Meetings don’t have to be painful experiences. If you plan and manage them well, meetings can be effective forms of communication. They can help you find out about other team members’ backgrounds, experiences, and styles; stimulate brainstorming, problem analysis, and decision making; and provide a forum to explore the reasons for and interpretations of a message.
You can improve your meetings by using these suggestions.
Planning for a successful meeting
To have a good meeting, you need to do some pre-meeting planning. Keep these pointers in mind as you plan:
- Clarify the purpose of the meeting. This step helps you ensure that you invite the right people and allows attendees to prepare for the meeting.
- Decide who needs to attend and why. If you need information, decide who has it, and make sure they attend the meeting. If you want to make decisions at the meeting, decide who has the necessary authority and who needs to be part of the decision making, and make sure they attend.
- Give plenty of notice of the meeting. This step increases the chances that the people you want to attend will be able to do so.
- Let the people who should attend the meeting know its purpose. People are more likely to attend a meeting when they understand why their attendance is important.
- Prepare a written agenda that includes topics and their allotted discussion times. This document helps people see why attending the meeting is worth their time. The agenda is also your guideline for running the meeting.
- Circulate the written agenda and any background material in advance. Doing so gives everyone time to suggest changes to the agenda and to prepare for the meeting.
- Keep meetings to one hour or less. You can force people to sit in a room for hours, but you can’t force them to keep their minds on the activities and information at hand for that long. If necessary, schedule several meetings of one hour or less to discuss complex issues or multiple topics.
Conducting an efficient meeting
How you conduct the meeting can make or break it. The following tasks are essential for conducting a productive meeting:
- Start on time, even if people are absent. After people see that you wait for latecomers, everyone will come late!
- Assign a timekeeper. This person reminds the group when a topic has exceeded its allotted time for discussion.
- Assign a person to take written minutes of who attended, which items you discussed, and what decisions and assignments the group made. This procedure allows people to review and clarify the information and serves as a reminder of actions to be taken after the meeting.
- Keep a list of action items that need further exploration, and assign one person to be responsible for each entry. This step helps ensure that when you meet to discuss these issues again, you have the right information and people present to resolve them.
- If you don’t have the right information or the right people to resolve an issue, stop your discussion and put it on the list of action items. Discussing an issue without having the necessary information or the right people present is just wasting everyone’s time.
- End on time. Your meeting attendees may have other commitments that begin when your meeting is supposed to end. Not ending on time causes these people to be late for their next commitments or to leave your meeting before it’s over.
Following up with the last details
Your meeting may be over, but your work isn’t finished. Make sure you complete the following post-meeting tasks to get the greatest benefit from the session:
- Promptly distribute meeting minutes to all attendees. These minutes allow people to reaffirm the information discussed at the meeting when it’s still fresh in their minds, and minutes quickly remind people of their follow-up tasks. Try to distribute the minutes within 24 hours of the meeting, and ask recipients to let you know if they have any corrections or additions.
- Monitor the status of all action items performed after the meeting. Because each action item is itself a miniproject, monitoring its progress increases the chances that people successfully complete it.
Don’t just talk about the suggestions for making your meetings more effective. Discussing them can’t improve your meetings. Act on them!