Project Management Rebooted™ | 5 Best Meeting Practices: Quit wasting your stakeholders’ timeOct 24, 2019
Ever feel like you might want to bang your head against the wall if you have to sit in one more disorganized, messy, non-productive meeting? 😫
Been part of a meeting recently where everything but the agenda topics were discussed? 😒
Have you been asked to attend a meeting where you realized about 10 minutes in that you had no idea why you were there? 🤨
Yeah. Me too.
And I won’t lie. It stirs up my Capricorn dark side when it happens.
All of these situations can be highly frustrating and annoying, especially when they are happening every single day in your workplace. It’s almost as if others have purposefully hijacked your valuable time for no good reason.
I’m thinking it’s time to do a little refresh on how and why we need to make sure our meetings are not wasting our stakeholders’ time and causing us to thrash around on our projects like freshly caught fish.
I’m going to bet you’ve heard of some or all of these “how to have a great meeting” tips before.
Because we all need reminding, and sometimes we need a good zap to jolt us out of our complacency.
While there may be nothing new here – I’m going to do my part to jog your memory, reminding you why these Best Meeting Practices are worth your time, and hopefully zap you back onto the meeting best practices happy hour wagon.
If you’re serious about stakeholder and client satisfaction, then you’ll do everything you can to make sure their valuable time is well-spent in your meetings. Including these 5 Best Meeting Practices.
In the spirit of not wasting your time- let’s get to it!
Best Meeting Practice #1 - Invite the right people:
Ask yourself this one question when teeing up a meeting invite: “Based on my meeting purpose, who do I need to be present to get the outcomes I need to move my project work forward?”
Seems like a “no-duh” question, right?
Yet I’m pretty sure there are a lot of us out there not asking that question before we create a meeting invite, unthoughtfully and hastily adding names to it, then hitting “send”. All in 10 seconds.
Once you ask yourself the question and allow yourself to ponder it for a few minutes, you’ll be able to better boil down your invite list to only include the essential subject-matter-experts and decision makers who are going to help you realize the outcomes you need to move your project forward in that meeting.
You do not need Britney and Todd in Human Resources, Fred in IT Apps, and Keri in Marketing to tag along for the hour of fun if your meeting purpose is to align your sponsors on your project scope. Unless they are all the sponsors.
If you’re unsure if you need a certain person to attend or if there are the usual office politics and ego simmering in the background, go back to the question. If you’re still not sure, talk to the person you’re unsure about – ask them if they think they need to be there.
One of the most cringe-worthy moments is having a meeting attendee interrupt at about minute 10 and ask “Why am I here?” Yes. That happened to me.
Best Meeting Practice #2 - Have an agenda with an overarching meeting purpose:
Nothing in the unproductive meeting bucket is more irritating than a meeting with no agenda, no stated purpose.
Having no agenda or purpose is a guaranteed way to have a meeting with no meaningful outcomes. Even if your agenda is one item, it’s still an agenda and you have a purpose in discussing that one item.
Ever been to a meeting with no agenda or purpose? It’s sheer torture.
At minimum, state your meeting purpose in the meeting invite and take the time to outline brief bullet points on the meeting topics. If you want to build some gratitude up with your colleagues, send a quick email out asking giving others an opportunity to contribute to the agenda topics – if that is appropriate for the type of meeting you’re pulling together.
If you want to be more of a super hero meeting organizer, then take the time to send the agenda with ballparked timeframes around each topic and who is going to lead the topic discussion. Your meeting attendees will be appreciative, and you will be too when they walk in prepared to talk about what you need to talk about.
Taking a few minutes to rough out an agenda and include it in your meeting invite is the least you can do as you organize your meetings.
You may think this is too much. Too much busy work.
It’s about having a transparent framework in place to move your meeting attendees through the time they have given up to be in your meeting, also giving you the ability to have something to track the meeting progress against.
No agenda = no structure = no tracking = stakeholders who will not want to come to your meetings.
Best Meeting Practice #3: Follow your agenda
Ok. So you have a meeting purpose and an agenda.
Hopefully you sent it out ahead of time. Even if it was 15 minutes before the meeting – it still counts! (maybe a little less, but it counts.) Just don’t expect a lot of participant preparation to have taken place.
Now you’re going to start the meeting, but a few minutes before the meeting starts, one of the stakeholders drops a casual comment your way with a very important idea she wants to share. You nod your head, trying to figure out how you’re going to fit that into the already-packed list of topics. You’ve got to figure this out in the moment, really in seconds, because you’re trying to set up the conference line and get everything started.
What to do?
Tell the stakeholder you’ll be happy to add that special topic into the mix after the other items have been discussed, or suggest adding it to the next meeting agenda, or offer to set up another meeting if it’s that important. If the stakeholder insists, and maybe they’re a project sponsor and have some political weight, then just go with it.
Some things are out of your control and it is not worth the battle.
In this case, do what you can to keep said stakeholder placated by bringing the topic into the meeting discussion, letting them know that talking about it now will impact the other topic discussions; if it starts taking too much time, ask to table it for another meeting.
This way you avoid an arm-wrestling match and possible backlash for being a meeting dictator.
Best Meeting Practice #4: Take notes
I don’t know too many people who like taking meeting notes.
But even in their simplest chicken scratch form, notes are necessary and beneficial for transparency, a critical component in accountability and getting things done.
Meeting Notes are also an incredible piece of treasure down the road when no one can remember what the decision and details were on whether or not to add that sparkly, rainbow spotted octo-whale-a-saurus with silver plated fangs into your project scope.
Have you ever savored the moment of going back to meeting notes and finding the decision or information supporting your total recall of what happened and proving your point? That’s what I’m talking about.
No doubt my best meetings are those where I’m able to recruit a colleague or peer to attend the meeting with me and be a dedicated note taker. They are observing things I may not be, and taking notes, of course, so I can focus.
Do something nice for the person taking notes for you – express your gratitude in some way. They are the unsung hero of the meeting. There really is nothing better than solid meeting notes and having the freedom to run the meeting and not be taking notes yourself.
Best Meeting Practice #5: Follow-up with your attendees
Make it short. Make it sweet. Make it clear.
Follow up with the attendees by sending a meeting recap email, highlighting action items and any other info needed. Preferably within 24 hours of the meeting.
Yeah. I know. You’re busy.
So is everyone else.
Getting a follow-up meeting email out to your attendees within a couple days of the meeting is priceless. I’ve seen more action items get done because of this one thing.
People are more likely to act on something they are reminded of quickly. We’re less likely to get something done if the reminder and context comes 3 weeks after we talked about it.
And one last thing.
Just so you don’t think great meeting outcomes are all on you when you’re in the meeting organizer role.
There’s also attendee/participant responsibility.
For those of us who come into meetings as an attendee/participant:
Be present. Put away your phone. Contribute when you can. Acknowledge and validate other’s contributions.
This is how you show respect to your fellow humans.
With everyone doing their part, there’s no doubt we can experience shorter, more effective meetings.
Do it for your teams. Do it for your stakeholders. And most of all, do it for yourself. Your professional street cred depends on it.
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