Everybody Hates Meetings, But…

Countless people have made the observation than nobody likes meetings. While that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, and there are a few people out there who enjoy going to meetings, there can’t be many. Nevertheless, meetings are an important part of managing any project effectively.

Meetings are Important to a Project Manager’s Credibility

Many of the stakeholders a Project Manager deals with will judge his/her credibility based on how well he/she manages a meeting. While this is an unfair judgment purely based on perception, it is still a reality which project managers face each and every day. Indeed, for some stakeholders the only contact with the Project Manager may be during those team meetings; so they have nothing else to base their perception on. A well-organized, well-run meeting gives stakeholders the impression that the Project Manager is on top of things, keeping everything under control, and that nothing is falling through the cracks. So as a Project Management Professional (PMP) you should not miss this great opportunity.

Managing a meeting well is also one of the biggest tests of PM’s ability. You are bringing together a group of people with different responsibilities and focus, for the purpose of working together on the same project. The divergent interests of attendees may cause friction and create the possibility of the conversation taking unexpected detours. In some cases, those who show up at the meeting come with their own agenda. Regardless of what that agenda might be, the Project Manager needs to maintain control, ensuring that the meeting stays on track and accomplishes what it is intended to.

Limiting The Number of Attendees

The number of people you invite to the meeting can have a major impact on the effectiveness of the meeting as well. In the case of informative meetings, where information is being disseminated or instruction is being given, a large group setting can work. On the other hand, when you are running meetings to discuss issues, arrive at decisions or deal with problems, you need to keep the number low. The maximum number of people you want in these types of meetings is seven.

Generally speaking, small meetings accomplish more. When you go beyond that limit, one or two people or groups end up dominating the discussion, leaving everyone else out. That leaves the rest of the people feeling as if you’re wasting their time. Guess what’s going to happen when you send your next meeting invitation?

There is no faster way to keep people out of your meeting than to leave them feeling like you are wasting their time. Each attendee needs to be able to leave the meeting feeling as if they’ve accomplished something by attending. That helps to ensure their continual support, both for future meetings and for other project related activities.

Don’t forget about the details. Your best meetings will happen when you are the most prepared. Even the little things like coffee and having enough copies will help keep your meeting flowing well. When people see that you are ready, organized and in control, it will be easier to get their active participation in accomplishing your objective for the meeting.

Dealing with “difficult” attendees

One of the ways in which people take control of a meeting is by turning it into a complaint session. There are employees in any organization whose greatest skill is nagging. They come to the meeting with the idea of pointing the finger at some other person (sometimes even the PM) or some other team, trying to ensure that the meeting focuses on discrediting that other person or group.

It is usually easy to identify these people, simply by how they react in meetings. However, it can be extremely hard to deal effectively with them. As these participants might have their own hidden agenda  the key is to have a well-planned, well-organized meeting and not allow anyone to change the direction of the conversation. If they attempt to change it to their own nagging agenda, simply stop them and say, “That isn’t on the agenda, if we have time at the end, maybe we can deal with it then.” Of course, you don’t have time for it at the end. Granted, that complainer will then complain about your not paying attention to their issue. Nevertheless, you need to keep in mind that it’s your meeting, so you control what happens. If they want a meeting to complain about things, they can call their own.

To keep people interested in the meeting, you want to keep it upbeat; complaints go against that. Once you identify those complainers, it can be very useful to take them aside and talk to them outside of a meeting environment. Sometimes, all it takes to get that person’s complaining under control is to give them another time, outside the meeting, in which they will be heard. That can give them the opportunity to let off steam, keep them motivated and prevent them from robbing everyone else’s motivation.

Organizing for The Meeting

1 – Objectives

Organization is a key to maintaining this control. You need an objective for the meeting. Why are you calling these people together? Is it to share information or make decisions? Whatever your objective, you need to know it ahead of time, and make sure that the meeting attendees are informed of it as well. Not only should you inform them of it in the meeting invitation, but you should restate it at the beginning of the meeting, as there are always those who don’t read the whole invitation and may not know what you are planning.

2 – Agenda

The second step in being organized is to prepare an agenda. What is it that you want discussed in the meeting and in what order? Put a time limit on each item as well, as this can help you to keep the meeting under control. If you have allocated three minutes for each person to give an update on their part of the project, let them know ahead of time that they only have three minutes. When their three minutes are up, stop them.

By putting a time limit on agenda items and making people stick to that time limit, you avoid wasting your time and other people’s time. While some may resent this the first time, they’ll quickly adapt to your “style” of running a meeting and come more prepared. At the same time, you’re sending a message to everyone in attendance that their time is valuable and you don’t want to waste it with a lengthy meeting.

3 – Informing

As part of your planning, make sure that everyone who needs to present something in the meeting knows what it is that they need to present. This will help prevent another common time waster, that of people coming unprepared. You won’t have everyone sitting in the conference room, waiting for that person to run to their office for some data that they need.