Written by Evelyn D. Brooks, MSM, PMP, SSGB
Facilitation and or attending meetings are not most people favorite part of being on a project. Some believe that the are a waste of time and non-productive. And in some instances, that is the case. However, they are helpful and often necessary to help keep the project on course. To ensure your meetings are productive, Iâ€™ve listed 10 common problems that you should avoid and ways to minimize them. Â By avoiding these common mistakes, you will have a greater success of facilitating effective and productive meetings.
1. Â The Meeting Facilitator does not distribute the meeting minutes promptly
— Itâ€™s been almost a week since you attended your last meeting. You seem to recall receiving a task but canâ€™t remember the exact assignment or its due date.
— You had to attend a mandatory training course and missed the meeting and now needs to know what was discussed.
— There was a heated discussion regarding a critical matter. You need to be sure you understood the final decision and action.
— On the day of the meeting, the project manager hands out the meeting minutes from the prior meeting. After reviewing the minutes, you realize that you forgot to address an action item.
— At the beginning of the meeting, the project manager hands out the meeting minutes from the last meeting. After reviewing the minutes, you notice a few discrepancies.
All of the examples listed above are very common occurrences. Meeting minutes are used to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It records new issues, assignments, changes, decisions, and other discussions. Team members often refer to them for reminders and clarification. Waiting until the last minute to create and distribute them is doing your team a disservice, especially when it is necessary to discuss any noted discrepancies. This time should be dedicated to those items noted on the meeting agenda, to keep your project progressing not old news.
The Project Manager, Chair or Meeting Scribe should create the meeting minutes as soon as possible while the information is fresh in oneâ€™s mind then quickly distribute them for review and comments. Lead time for distributing the minutes should provide sufficient time for meeting attendees to review, comment and suggest any corrections. Do not use a significant amount of time from the following meeting to discuss any discrepancies found in the meeting minutes, unless they are noted on the agenda.
2. Â The Meeting Facilitator and participants use Inconsistent tool and techniques for collecting information
Consistency is imperative. Your sponsor, stakeholders and more importantly your core team members need to know what to expect, and when and where to locate and send project information. If you start off posting or distributing meeting documents using a website collaboration workspace or using your email platform, be consistent. Do not use a Word document today, and spreadsheet or email tomorrow. If you agreed to distribute the agenda two days before the meeting, stick with that. Do not deviate from the norm, unless itâ€™s under special circumstances.
3. Â Â Participants use meeting time to catch up on their emails
During a meeting, have you ever noticed some people looking down at the laps? In most cases, they are reading their email or worse; they are surfing the web, checking out FaceBook or playing games! By establishing meeting rules early in the project that disallows this type of conduct is one way to minimized this behavior. Engaging lively discussions would also leave less time for distractions.
4. Â Â The Meeting Facilitator and participants use meeting time to eat and social
Some project managers use meeting time to discuss what they did over the weekend and partake in light refreshments. Unfortunately, bringing donuts and coffee is the only way to get some people to attend a meeting. While building comradery is fine, be sure that socializing doesnâ€™t take precedence over the real purpose of the meeting. If you truly require an hour to discuss project matters, schedule an extra 15 minutes for networking and refreshments.
5. Â Â The Meeting Facilitator invites inappropriate attendees
In many cases, the purpose of a meeting is to gain a better understand, provide updates/information, and or brainstorm. If the right people arenâ€™t present, then you may not get the understanding or solution sought after. It is not cost effective to invite members who really do not need to attend. Their time is better spent on doing their daily or other assigned tasks and duties.
Before sending out your meeting invite, first, review your agenda and think about the roles and responsibilities required to address your agendaâ€™s discussion items. Then identify and align them to your appropriate stakeholders. This approach will help you determine your meeting roster and improve communication. Do not invite individuals who are not authorized to make decisions, if a decision is required. Nor should you place an item on the agenda without someone in mind who is in the position to appropriately respond. There is nothing worse than seeking an answer to a question of which no one can contribute.
6. Â Â The Meeting Facilitator does not send out invitation in a timely manner
Some sample principle applies the meeting invites as meeting minutes. Provide lead time for distributing the agenda. Doing so gives your stakeholders sufficient time to review and prepare for those items that may apply to them.
7. Â Â The Meeting Facilitator does not attach a clear and realistic agenda with invitation
When sending out the meeting invite, it is always best to include a copy of the meeting agenda. This will allow the recipients an opportunity to review the discussion items and determine if others who are not on the distribution list also need to be invited. Provide a clear agenda with the time and order of the items to be discussed. This way if someone, for instance, needs to leave early or arrive late, he or she can request that the items are reordered, and a productive meeting can still be achieved. Do not add so many items that realistically you know that you will not be able to address them properly. Prioritize and deal with those that are time-based and the most critical. And by all means, if you only have a few discussion items, it is ok to adjourn your meeting early.
8. Â Â The Meeting does not start and end on time
If you meeting invite states for example that it begins at 9:00 A.M. and ends at 10:00 A.M., then start and end your meeting at those times. Some meeting facilitators like to wait for a few meetings before beginning. This practice encourages tardiness and shows a lack of respect for those who value time. Donâ€™t reiterate the discussion for those who show up late unless it is absolutely necessary. In some organization, the there is a meeting rule that imposes a penalty to late attendees, such as buying coffee/refreshments for the next meeting or cleaning up after the meeting.
9. Â Â Participants frequently go off topic
If you are not careful, one question can lead your entire group to go off topic. That is why it is so important to follow the meeting agenda. Sometimes people have things that they feel adamant about and need to get if off the chest. Others members may want to share their positions/perspective on the matter and may have a difficult time moving on to the agenda item. When this happens, apply the Parking Lot method. The Parking Lot method allows you to quickly acknowledge and validate someoneâ€™s desire to discuss something â€” while at the same time, keeps your meeting on target.
Swiftly and collaboratively decide if this topic is worth discussing later as a group. If the group agree to â€śpark itâ€ť for later, the meeting scribe visibly writes it down so that everyone sees that the issue was taken seriously and will be discussed later. The meeting then continues as scheduled. If there is not enough time to discuss the parked item, it is placed on the next meetingâ€™s agenda or discussed in a special session.
10. Â Participants lack respect towards members in and out of the group
Here are a few examples:
â€˘ Â Not paying attention or responding to the speaker
â€˘ Â Rolling oneâ€™s eyes and or making other negative facial expressions
â€˘ Â Making condescending and patronizing remarks
â€˘ Â Negative name calling
â€˘ Â Not giving credit to the rightful owner
â€˘ Â Talking at or down to others
â€˘ Â Constantly interrupting the speaker
Tips/Tricks – Making Â Difficult Decisions
As the project manager, it is your responsibility to make decisions. However, it is not uncommon to be faced with a situation when making decisions doesnâ€™t come easy.Â Generally, the harder the decision is to make, the more critical and significant the impact. Listed are a few tips to consider when you are faced with a difficult decision or are unsure of what decision to make.
~ Delay the Decision â€“ Unless the decision is time-based, and against the clock, you may want to delay and re-prioritizeÂ making the decision.Â Determine if prolonging the decision may be more advantageous.Â The additional time will allow you the opportunity to learn more about the area of concern or circumstances to change.
~ Pick a Temporary or next to best Option â€“ With time generally being a top priority on a project, you may need to review your options quickly, choose the one that you believe is the best and keep it moving in order to maintain and control the project schedule. This option may be a quick fix/bandaid.Â Address it later when a more permanent solution is determined. Think outside the box.
~ Obtain Additional Information â€“ Sometimes you donâ€™t have enough information to make an informed decision.Â Ask yourself if you feel comfortable making a decision with the information that you have on hand.Â If not, then do what you need to do to get the information that you need.Â That could mean making a few phone calls, conducting some research, running and analyzing reports or speaking with subject matter experts.