Feb 4, 2011

Take Command of your next Meeting

All of us go to meetings and most of us think the meetings occur way too often and last way too long. Instead of formal meetings, I’m a big fan of impromptu meetings with 2-3 people when technical decisions need to be made. I’ve never seen good decisions made when more than 4 people are in the room.

However, for large projects, it is important to have regular status meetings where representatives from all aspects of the project are present (i.e. development, support, documentation, marketing, etc.). This allows for transparency into those aspects of the project and allows a chance for miscommunications to be caught between these work silos. These meetings also serve as a good way to identify risks to the project and facilitate relationships between the various members of the project. These meetings should not exceed 1 hour and should normally be accomplished in much less time. If all is going well, 10-15 minutes are less.

One person should always serve as the facilitator of the meeting. This is usually a project manager. This person organizes the participants for the meeting, makes sure the meeting is timely, and drives the team towards decisions. This person is also responsible for the following:
  • Creating and following agenda and soliciting for agenda items from team members
  • Making sure proper stakeholders and project team members are present
  • Avoiding wasting members time with something that can be discussed later or after meeting, keeping the meeting timely
  • Hitting important items
  • Clarifying any statements
  • Driving team towards a decision point
  • Setting/clarifying next actions for members
  • Getting the correct participants involved in the discussion
  • Confronting issues
  • Identifying risks
  • Reducing ambiguity
  • Delegating tasks as necessary
The facilitator should ask one person take minutes for the meeting. The facilitator should not do this job because they need to focus on moving timely through the meeting and getting the whole team involved. Minutes should be sent to all team members and include:
  • All attendees present
  • Notes of items discussed giving careful attention to dates, name of person discussing, and concerns
  • Important decisions that are made
  • Action Items - clearly labeled as such, single name assigned as responsible, date to be completed given
Each meeting should start with a quick status on the previous meetings action items taken directly from notes. Do not reopen discussion during this status check because you will surely derail the timeliness of the meeting. Lingering action items should be addressed as soon as possible and next steps for the item should be re-identified. Meetings should end with a quick summary of action items with assignments and dates for each.

Of course, you need to tailor your meeting to your company's culture and your particular project. Keeping these tips in mind will surely improve the success of your next project.

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