Do Your Project Meetings Deliver?

How many of us have spent hours on end at project meetings wondering just why it was that we were invited and wishing we could get out of them and go and do something more interesting instead?  So maybe the senior stakeholder meetings need to have a wide representation to ensure the governance of the project is working well but let’s face it, these should only be quarterly or bi-monthly at most.  It’s when the wide stakeholder base gets involved with regular project meetings that the focus starts to shift from project delivery to meeting attendance.

All organizations have their own project culture which dictates what meetings happen and who is expected to attend.  The key word here is ‘expected’ because anyone can make a reasoned argument to attend any meeting however tenuous the connection.  The skill of the Project Manager comes in ensuring only those that have direct relevance to a project attend meetings.  This means negotiating and influencing different stakeholder groups and undoubtedly ruffling a few feathers on the way.

To prevent project meeting attendance becoming an industry in its own right I strongly recommend a thorough review of the meeting structure and cutting out any that have wide stakeholder attendance.  Combining meetings is another way to reduce time but be careful that in doing so you don’t start to build up the meeting attendance again so that it becomes un-manageable.  As a goal, aim to reduce the number of project meetings and time spent on them by 50%.

There is one type of meeting I’d never get rid of and that of course is the regular Progress Meeting.  For these to be of any use you have to ensure you get the right attendance, the bare minimum I would suggest – your core team. 

How often? – weekly is best and at the start of the week.  A Monday Morning Meeting to kick the week off looking at what happened last week and what needs to happen in the coming seven days is an absolute must.  Only switch to daily meetings at peak times, perhaps towards the delivery end of the project but try to avoid this wherever possible as it can start to re-generate the meetings culture again.

How Long? – 30 minutes maximum should be enough to get through all necessary discussion.  This requires good meeting skills on behalf of the Project Manager (or whoever else might lead) and team members.  If 30 minutes seems tough then go for 60 minutes to start with and aim to reduce down to 30 once you get into the swing of things.

Where? – It is so tempting to just pull chairs together in an office and hold a meeting there but the distractions can be huge.  It’s far better to remove yourself and find another area to hold your meeting.  Remember, you don’t need long so providing someone can take (very) brief notes anywhere will do.  

So, my top three tips for successful Project Progress Meetings are:

  1. Schedule them at the start of the working week and stick to this.
  2. No more than 30 minutes for the meeting.
  3. Have the meeting away from the working area to avoid distractions.

[A word on distractions in meetings  - there is no need for people to take phone calls, read and reply to texts and e-mails in a 30 minute meeting – turn the phones off, it’s only half an hour!] 

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Virtual Teams

I discovered this great short video on YouTube that perfectly characterizes so much about virtual teams, what it is that makes them so different and the benefits they bring to any organization and its people.  From the obvious globally dispersed teams to the less obvious use of avatars this is a wonderful reminder of what can be achieved providing everyone concerned keeps in mind that not everyone in the team will ever have met up with their colleagues face to face.  Collaboration and innovation using talent across the globe – now that’s something to strive for isn’t it?

When Managers Become Leaders

Managers who take on a Leadership position need to recognise the differences

Managers who make the transition to team leader for the first time can be pretty shocked at what hits them.  The whole point about leading is that they are leading people and any amount of leadership development or training can only go so far in preparing them for their first role.  The management skills they excelled at and probably got them noticed for entry into leadership will be useful to some degree but they need to develop their own leadership qualities quickly in order to perform.

To assist in their transition from Manager to Leader each individual should look at the following areas and create a plan that works for them.

Reflect on own experiences

It doesn’t matter that this is the person’s first formal position when they are recognized as a leader.  There will have been many occasions in their lives both in work and at home when they have been leading to some degree or other.  What might at first appear to be trivial as an example of ‘leadership’ can, if reflected upon, yield some interesting perspectives.  The New Leader should do just that – reflect on when they led on something, even going back to when they were at school, and consider what went well (and why), what didn’t go so well (and why) and what didn’t seem to matter to anyone at all.  If enough time is taken to think these through quite a list of experiences can be generated and reflected upon.

The other aspect the New Leader should think about is what it is that they have appreciated when working for others in the past.  They should consider also how the leaders they respected and worked well with dealt with different types of individuals.  Again, this can be enlightening and should be thought through by the New Leader.  Not so they can copy them but so they can start to understand just how different people respond to different styles of leadership.

Ask the team what they need

Knowing what you think others need isn’t always the same as what they actually need and this is an area where New Leaders can have problems.  They often think that they’ve been put in a position of leadership because they know lots and can be relied upon to ‘get the job done’.  Unfortunately that isn’t the same as you and your team getting the job done together.

It’s possible to figure out over a period of time what individuals need and expect but it’s far easier to ask them up front.  Questions along the lines of ‘What do you need from me to help you do your job?’ will illicit some interesting responses. Not all the responses will be positive but at least the New Leader will start to get an understanding of the individuals within their team.

Difficulties can understandably arise when the New Leader has been promoted from within the team they now need to lead.  It can be difficult for both sides and there is the possibility of resentment from those who weren’t chosen.  In this situation absolute honesty is the key.  The New Leader must explain that they recognize the awkwardness of the situation and they know how teamwork used to be when they were all equal team members.  Now, it’s different but teamwork still needs to continue with the New Leader asking for assistance to ensure everyone can move forward.

Be on the watch

Far too often New Leaders believe that to justify their position they need to make a significant impact and quickly.  Such thinking is not restricted to novice leaders unfortunately.  Unless there is a crisis or it’s a turnaround situation by far the best approach is to take time to see just how things operate.

Whether it’s 90 or 100 days it doesn’t matter as long as the New Leader consciously considers each and every aspect of how their team operates, interfaces with other parts of the business and with customers.  Only then should any changes be made, and only then if they are really needed.

Meet key players regularly

The New Leader needs to meet with their key or most senior team members on a regular basis.  Of course, everyone in a team is key to its success so taking the opportunity to talk to everyone in an open forum is essential, for real if possible or virtually if needed.  In this way the New Leader ensures that everyone knows just where they are coming from and what they expect.  Weekly or monthly meetings with key staff allows for that understanding to deepen and a strong working relationship to build.

Meet key clients regularly

Just as it’s important to build relationships internally it’s just as important to build them externally.  This could be with clients/customers, suppliers or other parts of the business in which they work.  Each and every one of them needs to be considered a client since there will be an interaction between the two groups that has to work seamlessly.  For example, a supplier needs to fully understand what they are to deliver and it’s the New Leader’s team who must ensure they specify that correctly.  By meeting with these key ‘stakeholders’ early on the New Leader has the opportunity to pick up on any pre-existing difficulties or glitches that perhaps have been overlooked or compensated for in the past.

Work with a Coach

There may be opportunities to undertake leadership development programs or leadership training courses.  These will take time and to get the most from them the New Leader needs to gradually implement what they have learnt.  Some form of mentoring from within the business could be a possibility and each and every team leader will have someone that they report to.  That person may or may not be willing or capable of providing assistance to the New Leader – it very much depends upon their own leadership style as well as the pressures they are under to deliver.

This is where coaching is invaluable as it is outside of the performance reporting loop and concentrates on the manager’s transition into an accomplished leader.  There are pros and cons to having coaches that are from within the business or brought in from outside and each have their merits.  Either way, the focus must be on assisting the competent Manager starting on the journey to becoming an equally competent Leader.

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