Meetings are essential to collaboration during a project. When run correctly, meetings help to connect, involve, and inform your team. A good meeting should energize the team.
Unfortunately, we are all very familiar with unsuccessful meetings that waste our time and energy!
For meetings that drive team collaboration, try these nine strategies.
I recommend picking one or two suggestions to start with, gradually integrating the other practices over time. This will allow your team to test the new processes before deciding what really works.
9 Strategies for More Productive Team Meetings
1: “We will review each meeting as it ends to see if it was a good meeting or not.”
As the meeting ends, ask, “are we more energized than before the meeting?”. If the answer is no, ask the team how to improve the next meeting. Bear in mind that with a collaborative project team, you will have many opinions. Some of the inputs may well be contradictory.
That is the strength of a good team – many diverse inputs. Listen to the input of your team and decide what to accept. Implement these ideas at your next meeting for more feedback and continue the cycle.
2: “We will not invite people who do not really need to be there. We will keep meetings as small as we can.”
In most cases, I have found that small teams achieve more. They tend to be more effective and efficient. If you are inviting everyone just so they know what is going on, find other more efficient ways to communicate. If you notice that people are inattentive while at your meeting, they may not need to be present.
3: “We will not present at meetings. We will circulate the meeting materials 3 days in advance, so people can read in their own time and at their own pace.”
We all process new information differently, so it is helpful to send the meeting materials in advance to let people prepare in their own way and in their own time. You can then spend the valuable meeting time talking about the materials rather than introducing them.
4: “We will come prepared – or we will say we are not prepared.”
I tend to cancel a meeting if I am not properly prepared in advance. I hate to waste everyone’s time. If I am not prepared and it is vital to proceed with the meeting, then I will fess up, so the meeting facilitator is aware and can adjust the meeting style if necessary.
5: “We will start and finish on time. We will let the team know if we are running late and request their consent.”
It is bad enough that meetings can be long, but when they run longer than scheduled, the rest of the day can be delayed. If many people at the meeting, these delays affect other people and groups not at the meeting. Sometimes this is necessary.
However, more often than not, this is due to a poorly managed meeting. It can be very helpful to assign timings to an agenda to track as the meeting progresses. If you are running over on one item, defer an item to the next meeting so the meeting does not end late.
You can also use the agenda to let the team know if the meeting is likely to run over in case anyone needs to leave.
6: “We will mix it up, e.g., walk outside while we meet, meet at a different location, invite an outside speaker/listener, etc.”
If you have meetings that occur with great frequency and have the same agenda, people can get jaded. It is good to mix it up. I must say that I do like to walk and talk. It suits my personal communication style. Identify what works for you and your team.
It can also be good to get an outside speaker or listener. For a recent project review, we invited a retired leader to come and listen to our plans. He gave very good insights but also an affirmation to the team – helping everyone know we were on the right path. The plans did not change radically, but the team was more energized.
7: “We will properly listen before we comment.”
There are times when we need to actively talk back and forth. There are also times we need to really listen, to actively listen, before we fully understand where someone is coming from. We have all experienced the people who interrupt constantly, even if very politely. In many of these cases, they have missed the main point! As a meeting facilitator, it is important to moderate so that the right amount of listening and talking takes place.
8. “We will pay attention and we will not check email or phones.”
I have been at meetings where people are checking their emails instead of listening and then delay everyone due to their inattentiveness. Ask people not to check phones or emails, except in exceptional circumstances. Promise them a shorter, more effective meeting as a result.
9. “We will take our action items seriously and complete them on time.”
When the team completes their meeting action items on time, the project and subsequent meetings proceed much smoother. As a project manager, you need to set this expectation. Thank people for timely completion of action items and call people out for the opposite – unless of course there are good reasons.
Depending on your team and current meeting structures, pick the most relevant suggestions to start improving your meetings. When you and your team are ready, include more practices. Over time, your meetings will become focused and productive – leading to a happy team and more project success.
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from our free book, Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook.