I have seen most of the meetings conducted (for duration of 1 hour) spend only 15 – 20 minutes on the actual content. Rest go in waiting for participant to join, making the projector/desktop/phone and other infrastructure ready, arranging the conference room, etc. How much of time waste? Other than the key stakeholder or Project Manager who wants a decision derived out of this, rest of participants do not worry about this.
Few bright individuals who are concerned about this non-productive activity leave the venue and return back to spend useful time (15 – 20 minutes). As a Project Manager, how to eliminate this waste and make the meeting lean and effective?
Here are some useful tips :
1. Plan well in advance about a discussion. This includes booking the conference room in advance; ensuring necessary infrastructure is in place and is in working condition; sending out the meeting invites in advance to all the relevant people.
2. Insist on reply on the meeting invite. If a participant is not likely to make it, let him reply as “Tentative”. Those who decline the invite need not be called in. They can be sent the copy of Minutes of Meeting. This reply will save time and you know precisely for whom to wait and not to wait.
3. If infrastructure is not working but is needed, get this rectified well ahead of the meeting and ensure that. For this, you as a facilitator need to arrive at the venue at least 10 – 15 minutes ahead of the meeting start time.
4. Ensure someone takes active note of the meeting minutes/decisions/action items. Also ensure this is circulated to the meeting attendees. It is always better to include the list of participants in the first line of the Minutes of Meeting.
5. If the intended decision could not be arrived at, please schedule another meeting at a convenient time to the relevant people who are required to attend it. Others can be excused.
6. If the intended key participant is not available due to any last minute surprise, please be present at the venue/conference bridge, wait for the participants to arrive and explain the reason, share an apology and reschedule the meeting again.
7. Most of the times, meeting topic gets diverted based on the participants (who are usually relevant people in multiple meetings) who start discussing about other irrelevant points not-specific to this agenda. It is the responsibility of the facilitator (a Project Manager) to bring them back to the topic under discussion. Perhaps you could make note of the other point and schedule another meeting for the same.
8. If there is sensitive issues/communication to be shared in open conference bridge, please ask the participants who are not required for the same, to drop off. Ensure they drop off and only then discuss these issues. That would ensure trust prevailing amongst of participants who are to share the communication.
9. If you are just facilitating the meeting on behalf of a technical person, ensure they have written down agenda/questions/issues to be discussed before the meeting. This will reduce time spent on the meeting. Also as and when an issue is discussed, please get the confirmation from the technical person about the answer and mark it closed. If there are open items still pending to discuss, schedule another meeting if there is any conflict. Else ensure the set agenda is completed.
10. If you use whiteboard, ensure you do not rub off something marked that way. Also, do not forget to rub off writings on the whiteboard at the end of the meeting. Ensure your conference room is in usable condition for someone coming up next.
11. If the time duration is over (as communicated in the meeting invite) get participants’ acceptance to extend even for few minutes. They may have conflicting meeting invites.
12. Respect everybody’s time. If everyone does it, there will not be any unproductive activity.
13. Above all, never ever schedule a meeting without an actual need for it. Solve issues through mail if they can be. As a Project Manager, include the time spent on meetings as an activity in project plan. Most of the times, they don’t feature in the WBS and end up slogging because of unproductive hours spent in a meeting.
Doing the above over a period for multiple meetings, you will be better at it. Also there could be other points that are valid than the above.
Following these guidelines, will make meetings productive and not as a source of time waste.