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Time management - Meetings part 2



Meetings part 2

General

Meeting are often the bugbear of everyone.
If only we didn’t keep having meetings we could actually do the job!
How many times have we all heard that.


If you ask the question, “do you believe meetings are necessary?” you will probably get the answer, “yes”.
So, if they are OK why do people hate them?

Meetings tend to cover 4 key areas:

  • Team meetings
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Progress reporting

Some aspects of specific meetings are covered elsewhere [see ‘The Complete Project Management package’] and [see 'The Complete Project Management plus PRINCE2'].

Team meetings

You will need regular meetings not only with your staff but with your senior managers.
The aim of the meeting is really to build team morale and motivation through a suitable agenda.

These meetings are a very good way for team members to get up to speed on other projects and parts of their own.
It’s a good idea for each person to present a brief summary for 5 to 10 minutes on their progress.
The same meeting can be used then to solve problems, as an aid to communication and obviously for progress reporting.

The meeting should be informal with brief minutes.
Everyone of your team should attend. Find out the reason for non attendance.

Problem solving

When problem solving define the problem accurately and get everyone’s agreement. Explain why you are trying to solve it. Give some idea of what sort of solution you are looking for. For example, deadline needed, budget limits, available resource etc.
Attendance is by all those who will be directly involved with implementing the plan.
Actions will be given to individuals at the meeting with a view to reporting on these at a subsequent meeting.

Review all action points and gain agreement before the meeting ends.
Keep minutes brief and a circulate quickly.

Problem solving is covered in much more detail in ‘The Problem solving package – PowerPoint format’ and is included elsewhere [see ‘The Complete Project Management package’] and [see 'The Complete Project Management plus PRINCE2'].

Communication

This meeting could serve a small number or very large number of people.
Improve your presentation skills and focus on the message that you wish to convey backed up by suitable data as necessary.
Consider the use of all the technology that is available e.g. PowerPoint presentations, video clips, diagrams and charts etc. You may wish to record the presentation and make it available on a website for those who can not make the meeting.

You may wish to provide a hand out of the key points of the meeting.
Allow questions at the end or in a more informal atmosphere at the end for those less likely to raise them in the meeting itself.

Progress reporting

These meetings are for reporting the progress of key actions for a project. Problems and issues should be raised.
This is the time to view the overall plans against milestones.
Potential delays in your plans should not be viewed lightly. It is unlikely that this meeting will be in a position to sanction a move of a project end date.
Rather it should be a time to review all issues that may have an impact on the end date. You should look at options to maintain the end date, for example, running tasks in parallel, increasing staff numbers, using external resource, working longer hours, improving equipment etc. The aim is to present options to senior management for them to consider which might keep the project on track. If these are unacceptable then a delay in the end date may be sanctioned.

These aspects are discussed in more detail elsewhere [see ‘The Complete Project Management package’] and [see 'The Complete Project Management plus PRINCE2'].

Keep the meetings short, arranging for sub meetings if necessary. Only give actions to one person.
Keep the numbers at the meeting focussed on those receiving actions. Everyone should be aware of the importance of completing actions on time.

Too many

Just how many do you need.
You will need to consider the purpose of the meeting and get a balance between control through progress reporting and interrupting the work flow.

Too long

A great deal of meetings are much too long. We all seem to know this but nothing changes. We kick off with big enthusiasm and 2… 3… hours later energy is on the wane. We spend more time looking at our watches, Trying to keep our eyes open and our minds wander easily. Why is this?

Unclear preparation

How many people go into a meeting armed only with pencil, paper and a desire to go home. The boss asks for a presentation and either you provide one with the wrong focus, poor supporting data or you haven’t got it at all as no one told you it was required.
If we don’t know the purpose of the meeting how can we prepare properly for it?

Many meetings are populated with vague looking personnel who have prepared poorly.
Once you are clear of you own purpose at the meeting prepare properly and be ahead of the rest.

Unclear purpose

If everyone turns up for a ‘routine’ meeting with the purpose unclear what’s going to happen. Mayhem probably.
The person calling the meeting often believes the meeting ‘purpose’ is obvious and is frustrated at the ‘inefficiency’ of his staff.
What do you expect?

Unclear output

What is the output of the meeting going to be? If many of the above are in place the answer is ‘not a lot’.
Is it a:

  • Set of minutes.
  • Yet another meeting.
  • List of actions.

Unclear actions

If actions are the result of the meeting, usually via minutes, is it crystal clear what the action is?
Who is doing it? When should it be completed?

Agendas

The correct use of agendas can eliminate all of the problems above.
The first meeting should be used to finalise some aspects of what is expected.

  • How frequent are the meetings?
  • How long will they be?
  • How will you handle preparation before hand?

The agenda should clearly identify for each item on the agenda the activities that must be complete before attending the meeting.

  • Identify the meeting purpose.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of the output and its format.
  • Identify the expectations with regard to actions from the meeting.

If these simple actions are carried out then the quality of the meeting and its output will improve considerably and save precious time increasing team morale.

Chairing tips

  • Think constantly about the meeting size and invite / eliminate those persons as necessary. Try to keep the group as small as possible.
  • Do you need the meeting? Can you disband it and restart in a much improved focus and format?
  • Frequency and format should be discussed and agreed.
  • What is the purpose of your meeting? What are the objectives? Remind members of these every time you start the meeting.
  • Produce an agenda ahead of time so that others can prepare and ask questions of the topics ahead of the meeting.
  • Check equipment availability and the correct atmosphere and environment for the meeting. You may wish to point out the equipment availability on the agenda which will prompt individuals to raise the need for other equipment as necessary. Choose a room with minimum interruptions.
  • Start the meeting on time and don’t tolerate late comers. Make it clear at the start of the first meeting what you expect in terms of conduct, for example, their approach to completion of actions, arriving on time, sending a substitute etc.
  • As well as raising the objectives of the meeting communicate what sort of outcome you expect from it. For example, a list of options stating potential benefits and costs or one agreed solution that will be actioned following presented options.
  • Keep to the agenda both in terms of topics and timing. Everyone hates overrun meetings. If necessary, suggest another focus meeting for topics where the discussion is dragging on.
  • For each agenda item review the key points and issues before opening up the discussion.
  • Keep presentations to summaries of the key issues with the use of background data in reserve for backing up arguments.
  • Review the key points arising from each agenda items and the action points. Agree the latter and who will be doing it. Only one person can be given an action and only persons at the meeting can be given an action.
  • Finish by confirming the date of the next meeting. Have this as an agenda item.
  • Keep the meeting to 1 hour, 2 hour max. Beyond 2 hours people lose the will to live.

Meeting member tips

If necessary send a substitute. Inform the chairperson if you do this.
You may be able to present your information to the chairperson if you are unable to attend.
Get an agenda to see your commitment and help you prepare.
If you must be away from the meeting at a certain time tell the chairperson and state the time. It will not then be a surprise when you have to go.
If you feel discussion is going on too long and flying off on a tangent try to get the meeting back on track. Question the relevance of the talk.
Perhaps suggest that the matter could best be discussed elsewhere or in a separate meeting. May be you could curtail the discussion yourself by summarising the key points whilst trying to clarify the position so far.
If you are unhappy over the general structure of the meeting take this up with the chairperson after the meeting. Make sure you have some constructive comments and not just moans.

Non - PRINCE2 information