Tag Archives: how to run the best project team meetings

A Closer Look at Distant Communication Part 3: The End

Completing our series about running the most effective project team teleconferences, we now focus on the best ways to end each session.

At the end of many teleconferences participants simply hang-up the phone without participating in a formal wrap-up. The meeting leader must be aware of the time and should begin a formal wrap-up a few minutes prior to the meeting’s scheduled conclusion.

Here are five best practices for doing so:

  • End with the beginning – i.e., restate the meeting’s purpose and begin to draw conclusions
  • Use shorter statements and closed-ended questions to keep everyone involved
  • Clearly assign tasks, responsibilities and next steps to individuals and get their agreement with respect to understanding and ownership — who will do what… where… and when?
  • Debrief the session by seeking input from participants. You might consider giving participants one minute to write-down a brief summary of “take-aways,” did-wells and do-betters, and then ask for a brief summary from each; or you might randomly pose final questions to each participant relative to their assessment of the session and understanding of next steps.
  • Acknowledge good participation and thank the group

Once the session is over there is, of course, still one more key responsibility for the meeting leader: follow-through. Here are a few thoughts that might help:

  • Distribute a meeting recap
  • Proactively contact participants who were most involved during the session to reaffirm the value of their input, to gather input for upcoming sessions and to promote ongoing participation.
  • Proactively contact participants who were assigned or volunteered to complete tasks – measure progress or offer support; send the implied message that you care and that the tasks are important by sending a progress report to all participants prior to the next meeting
  • Begin preparing the next meeting

As Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung so famously said, “You are what you do… not what you say you will do!

Four Components of the Best Project Team Meetings

meetings2Our previous two posts referenced some interesting data about meetings, and some thoughts about assessing the quality of our meetings. To complete this series, today’s post will share more definitive information about running the most effective meetings.

To begin, a definition: In their book “How to Communicate,” Patrick Flanning, Matthew McKay, Ph.D., and Martha Davis, Ph.D. discuss group meetings and the dynamics of communication. They define a business (or project team) meeting as being a task-oriented group activity where group issues or problems take precedence over individual issues or needs.

A review of www.bestmind.com will reveal that “the best meetings are the ones where attention is paid to content, design, and process.” We are also reminded that meetings are not destinations, but rather vehicles for reaching strategic objectives.

The four key elements involved are:

  • Design
  • Plan
  • Process
  • Follow-through

Design is a function of purpose, and involves participant selection, location, and scheduling.

Before designing a meeting, it is important to define its purpose and goals. Only those who are crucial to goal achievement should be invited, as every meeting has an impact on the normal day-to-day responsibilities of the attendees. In addition to participant selection, designers sometimes select others to act as meeting or group leaders or guests who can serve as subject-matter experts.

While site decisions are normally straight-forward, scheduling often is not. If, for example, the purpose of a meeting is to solve a critical problem, then the meeting is likely to take priority over other scheduled events.

Training meetings, on the other hand, can be scheduled around busy times of day or year; and project team meetings, which are generally recurring, are best scheduled at regular intervals. Scheduling these meetings on the “same day and time” each week or every-other week can help participants better-plan their own work schedules and can also improve absenteeism problems.

Once design decisions are made, planning is the next step. Though vital, the need for planning is often overlooked, and poor planning is the most common cause of unproductive meetings.

Ideally, planning is done by both the meeting leader and the participants. The planning process, however, begins with the leader, who must conduct appropriate research so as to be capable of effectively organizing an agenda and leading the group.

Once created, the agenda should be distributed to participants prior to the meeting (a day or two in advance is best), and the leader should encourage the group to not only become familiar with the agenda but also to prepare themselves for a meaningful discussion of the issues therein.

As part of the planning process, meeting leaders should also compile handout/visual-aid materials, anticipate group reaction, and plan for group interaction.

When necessary, the most effective meeting leaders also familiarize themselves with the room and with any props that will be used during the meeting, such as a microphone, projector, or audio-visual system. It is also the leader’s responsibility to verify the availability of such props, and to make sure they are fully-operational before the meeting’s scheduled start-time.

Process involves starting and ending the meeting on time, establishing a decorum, presenting content, assigning the task of taking meeting minutes, coming to a consensus, and setting a follow-up course of action.

The best meetings are brought to order with a restatement of purpose and an explanation of the “rules” or guidelines, such as structure, the scheduling of breaks, who will have the floor, how questions will be addressed, how long the meeting will last and, most importantly, how attendees should interact with one-another (i.e., “no interruptions, open-mindedness, etc.)

It is then the leader’s responsibility to keep the discussion on-subject and focused on pre-defined group content and goals. It is important for the leader to maintain control, to identify “off-agenda” items and place them in a “parking lot” or on a “to be addressed later” list, to draw conclusions from the dialogue, and to identify the next step(s) in the process.

Just as lack of preparation often results in poor meetings, poor follow-through is the most common cause of failure to accomplish anything after-the-fact.

It is the leader’s responsibility to identify and/or assign follow-through steps and to monitor follow-through activities. If required, a follow-up meeting should be scheduled prior to adjournment.

To be sure that all participants are on the same page, the astute leader will allow time for questions, and will end a meeting by summarizing both the discussion and the conclusions that were drawn, along with all agreed-upon next steps.

The meeting summary mentioned above should then be distributed to all attendees, and the leader should follow-up with those tasked with action items to provide both support and accountability.

As with all forms of communication, meetings only work if they are well-planned, well-executed, and well-managed.