How Project Managers Can Run Better Meetings

By Linda D. Henman, Ph.D.

1.  Encourage Better Communication

Robust discussion doesn’t happen automatically among members of a team. It has to start with the project manager.  Are you willing to put issues on the table and engage in frankness and straightforwardness?  If you aren’t, you won’t encourage either, yet a high level of candor is critical to your team’s creative problem solving.  Too often project managers make harmony their goal.

2.  Set the Agenda and Have a Timekeeper Help Everyone Stick To It

Each person on the team should have a chance to submit items for the team’s agenda, but this needs to be done ahead of time. A deadline for this is critical.  With rare exceptions, if the item isn’t submitted by the deadline, usually the day before the meeting, it goes on the agenda for the next meeting.  Once you see the kinds of things team members want to discuss, you can allocate time for that issue.

3.  Assign a Process Checker

One of the problems in meetings is individual members tend to be too talkative or too quiet.  Neither extreme is good for the team; therefore, comment on how much or how little people are talking.

4.  Utilize the Parking Lot

The Parking Lot consists of a flip chart that is taped to some part of the room away from the other flip charts, Power Point screen, and other central parts of the meeting room.  When a topic comes up that is not on the agenda, the person who brought it up writes it on the parking lot page.  Often you will need to suggest that the person write it there because people usually like to discuss their issues as soon as they think of them.  However, this moves the group off the tasks of the day and siphons energy that is needed for the current concern.  Establishing the parking lot does two things.  First, it captures the problems and questions so they are not forgotten.  Second, it communicates an eagerness to hear the ideas and opinions of each member at the appropriate time.

 

5. Have the Boss Speak Last

As the project manager, the surest way to encourage groupthink and currying favor is to let people know what you want them to say.  Then, wasting no time, each team member will take a turn being the echo, telling you exactly what you want to hear.  As harmonious as this seems, it is not the reason for a meeting, and it’s not the best way to solve problems.  Instead, if you make one of the Rules of Engagement be that you will speak last, team members will learn that you don’t intend to voice an opinion until they have exhausted their ideas and opinions.

 

 

 

6.  Start and End on Time

Frequently the group waits for one or two stragglers.  Then, because of a late start, the meeting runs over the allotted time.  Both build resentment.


2 Responses to “How Project Managers Can Run Better Meetings”

  1. Ignacio Inchausti, PMP says:

    Hi Linda,

    Agree wholeheartedly with every point you make. I would also add the importance and preciseness of identifying, documenting, assigning and dating action items arising from the meeting. These then must be tabled as agenda items for the following meeting (if a regular schedule) of subsequent meeting identified for follow-up and closure. So many times said action items linger unattended and result in conveying messages to team members that there is no need to pay attention because nothing is ever finalised. Action item management is crucial, and an additional responsibility of the Project Manager; he or she may choose to delegate this responsibility but ultimate accountability rests with the PM.

    Ignacio.

  2. Miguel Fernandez Montoya - PM London says:

    Hi Ignacio
    Your answer completes quite well Linda’s explanations. I would say it gives a good description of what we should do during meetings and how to manage meetings. We need to distinguish Minutes of meeting and Action Plan. In addition, follow-up of actions has to come in parallel with minutes. Minutes record decisions, point of view, … and are static, when Action Plans tend to give a direction of work and are more dynamic.
    We should consider Minutes as the “base” (where we are) and action plan as the “how to go further” (where we go).
    When a PM can delegate Minutes of Meeting, he should directly manage the Action Plans.
    To finish, I would say that we have to plan and to show to all team members how we are going to manage meetings and there is a very good place for that : the Project Management Plan at section Communication Plan.
    Miguel

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