We spoke to project managers who lead large teams accomplishing a diverse range of projects ranging from software, to finance to utilities, to understand how they manage meetings.
Here’s how they do it.
1. Establish ground rules
At the outset of your project, establish a set of meeting rules and expectations – don’t assume everyone is on the same page.
“It’s pretty important to set these up in advance” says Max Durazo, Director Construction & Engineering at AT&T Wireless. “I routinely lead meetings with 20 or more people. If attendees aren’t clear on the basics, meetings are far less productive.”
Depending on your leadership style and type of meeting, you should cover off:
- The use of phones/laptops and multi-tasking in meetings (is it OK?)
- Showing up or dialing in on time, and the implications for not doing so
- Adopting a silence denotes agreement policy
- Respect for everyone’s privacy and confidentiality
- Level and type of preparation participants are expected to do
- Expectations around participation and distractions during the meeting
- Separating the person from the issue
Adopting a common set of rules ensures that everyone on your team understands how work gets done in project meetings and sets your tone as a leader.
2. Understand the purpose of your meeting
Complex, lengthy projects are composed of a myriad of meeting types: Weekly Status Updates, Proposed Scope Changes, Risk Assessments, Budget Status, Staffing Review and more.
Each has its own purpose and expected outcome. Make sure, as the meeting leader, that you can articulate why you’re having the meeting and what you expect to achieve. As you build out your meeting agenda, you should be able to mentally align each topic, discussion and task with your stated purpose.
“Everyone you invite to your meeting should align to its purpose. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be there – return that hour to the company.” says Amit Raman, Program Manager at Paypal.
For ad-hoc or one off meetings, explicitly stating the purpose and expected outcome at the beginning gets everyone on the same page and aligned in their thinking. For recurring meetings, it’s useful to revisit the meeting’s purpose every other meeting to ensure everyone remembers why this meeting occurs.
3. Create a cadence around communication
For recurring project meetings, get participants used to a pattern of communication around them.
If your team meets weekly, send out an agenda for comments/updates at least a couple of days in advance. Use a collaboration tool like Google Docs or Trackmeet to permit shared Agenda editing and commenting.
Address issues that may be contentious or require additional explanation in advance of group discussion at your meeting. Use in-person or telephone conversations vs. email for these situations to fully explain the issue and gather input.
“People only like surprises on Christmas and birthdays. Over-communication with your stakeholders is never a bad thing” Amit adds.
Follow up after a meeting should be done within hours in order to maintain project and meeting momentum. Distribute notes, decisions, action items and if the technology permits, an audio or video recording of your meeting.
4. Set expectations around follow-up
In his project meetings, Amit uses a “contract” to set expectations around post meeting follow-up.
“I’ll ensure no one walks out of our meeting room until we write down who’s doing what, when. To do otherwise means we’ll meet again to talk about the same things. Nobody wants that” he says.
By explicitly capturing these tasks, you’re making it clear to your project team that you will be tracking them and indicates that you deem them important. What gets measured gets done.
5. Know when to listen and when to speak
In a group setting, you have an invaluable collection of wisdom and perspective from which to draw. Resist the urge to always be talking. Let a discussion wander if it needs to.
“Leaders who talk too much in meetings are doing their teams a disservice. Your team has first-hand knowledge of what’s happening on the ground, in the trenches – put away your ego and listen” councils Ron Olson, a project manager with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).
A leader’s job here is to frame the discussion and articulate a vision to let the collective wisdom of her team come to the best conclusion. A fine line exists between being overbearing and guiding – observe this tendency and watch your team outperform!
Also, set the expectation that “silence denotes agreement”, so that when you do make a decision or state an assumption, the group assumes it to be true if no one offers additional input. This puts the burden of debate on your team and doesn’t have you searching for feedback.