Turn Project Meeting Disasters into Motivating Opportunities!

By Jayne Gnadt, PMP

Tired of those project meetings that seem to turn into disasters, even with the best laid plans? Think about some of those disasters…Did you ever wonder why you were invited to the meeting in the first place? How about those times when you wait for 5, 10, even 15 minutes to start the meeting while participants stroll in? What about those chaotic meetings that continuously stray off track where nothing seems to go according to plan (if there is one!)? It’s time to turn those disasters into meetings that add value to the project work, save time and serve as motivation to your project team!

Let’s examine some common pitfalls that can quickly turn well intended project meetings into nightmares. This first may seem relatively obvious, but how often have you attended a project meeting without an agenda? If no one has any idea what will be discussed, how do your stakeholders properly prepare for the meeting? A simple agenda takes the guess work out of the meeting by specifying the meeting purpose – think desired outcomes! Is it a brainstorming session, an informational announcement or an update on project status? If the meeting agenda requires input from the team, give them time to submit their topics and times needed to cover each topic and then distribute the agenda a day or two before the meeting. Be sure to include specifics such as date, day, time, time zone, location and pertinent phone numbers, and – this is significant and often left out – whether all participants need to attend the entire session.

An action/decision list is another great tool to use to help keep your meetings organized and to capture key meeting results. It can be used during the meeting to ensure that all actions and assignments are documented along with the responsible party and due date. It also clarifies all decisions made and can be kept as a part of project history. Publish the list as part of the meeting notes so there is no room for misunderstandings.

How about using some ground rules? When attendees know the expected behavior, they are much more likely to “play by the rules.” This is a great way to keep meetings on track and hold everyone personally accountable for his or her actions and behavior. Here is a sample that can work for any meeting:

• Start and stop meetings on time
• Everyone is expected to participate
• Leave job titles at the door
• Avoid side tracking by keeping to scheduled time for each topic
• Respect each other’s comments/opinions
• One person speaks at a time – no side conversations
• Come prepared
• Actions/decisions will be assigned to an owner, with a due date

Another common pitfall is not assigning clear cut meeting roles. When roles and responsibilities have not been clearly defined, you are simply asking for chaos in your meetings. A well organized meeting should have a leader/facilitator (with a back-up if necessary), time-keeper, minute-taker, scribe, and of course the other participants. Each of these roles is equally important to meeting success and should be identified, even if someone must take on more than one role. You may want to consider rotating each role for every meeting or rotating roles once a month so that everyone has an opportunity to fulfill every role at one time or another. Each of these roles helps to ensure that meetings are run in a timely fashion and that everyone is accountable.

There should always be a facilitator or meeting leader to conduct the meeting in an efficient manner. The leader/facilitator has one primary goal: to ensure teams reach participative decisions and create action plans when necessary. You may also want to consider a back-up leader/facilitator if you have a large sized meeting or if the leader/facilitator is less experienced. Other responsibilities include:

• Determine the necessity of the meeting
• Plan the meeting to ensure that the purpose and objectives are clear
• Provide structure for the meeting and guide discussions
• Keep the meeting focused and on track
• Ensure the right participants and ONLY the needed participants are in the meeting

The time-keeper is a role that might appear trivial. In reality, this is one of the most challenging roles and requires a great deal of assertiveness. The effective time-keeper not only keeps an eye on time, but must be courageous enough to speak up and make others aware of staying within appropriate timeframes. The time-keeper is also responsible for assisting the meeting leader in the following areas:

• Help keep the group focused
• Provide two-minute warnings before allotted times are over for each agenda item
• Provide five-minute warnings before the ending time of the meeting
• Be assertive to help keep the meeting on track

The minute-taker takes the notes for the meeting and ensures these are published in a timely manner. Minutes should not be commentary or written as a detailed novel. Instead, they should be concise and succinct, using bullet points rather than long paragraphs so that the reader can quickly understand the outcome of the meeting. It’s a good idea to use the action/decision list as part of the meeting notes. The minute-taker should also:

• Record all participants in attendance
• Document topics discussed
• Summarize main points of each topic
• Keep a record of the date, time and place of the meeting
• Log all actions, decisions and issues
• Distribute minutes within a day or two after the meeting

The scribe documents discussion information during the meeting in a visual manner. This role may not always be necessary, however someone should be responsible for this position should the need arise. The scribe is most useful during brainstorming sessions where lists are created on flip chart paper or white boards or when key ideas or discussion points need to be recorded for all to see. Other pointers for the scribe are:

• Summarize and repeat information to ensure accuracy
• Write information large and clear so that meeting members can reference easily
• Post notes around room throughout the meeting
• Record what is said, instead of paraphrasing

The rest of the meeting participants have the responsibility of helping to create productive meetings. Everyone needs to prepare appropriately for the meeting and actively participate. This includes sharing ideas, fulfilling tasks and action items assigned, as well as following and helping to enforce meeting ground rules.

Utilizing meeting tools and ensuring roles and responsibilities are assigned is a good start for getting project meetings focused and keeping them that way. However, bringing some energy to our meetings can have the additional benefit of turning them into motivating opportunities. At Mindavation, we call these activities “team building minutes.” Energize your team and have a little fun with some quick motivating activities.

Try this one out . . . “What Makes for a Great Day?” Ask your team to think about what it would take for them to have a “great day.” For example, think about when someone asks you “How was your day?” and you can truly answer “I had a great day!” What was it about the day that made it “great?” Ask the team to take a few minutes to jot down what that day would look like to them. Then ask for volunteers to share. You will find out an amazing amount of information about what motivates your team members just by conducting this simple exercise. If someone says that they like to be able to check everything off their “to-do” list to make for a great day, you will know that this person thrives on accomplishment, wants to be challenged, not overwhelmed and would probably prefer assignments that are clearly articulated in a list format.

Another motivator is “3 Things You Wouldn’t Know About Me”, which is a great opener or closing activity to learn more about the team. Ask each team member to write down 3 things that others would not know about them from looking at them. Have a couple of attendees share one at each meeting. Not only is it is fun, but you wouldn’t believe what you can find out about your team! It builds teamwork and can even create or expand lasting working relationships.

The “Seven C’s” is also a way to get the team involved and can turn our meetings into motivating opportunities. Distribute a list of seven questions with “C’ as the key topic such as “What is your favorite Candy?” “What is your favorite Cuisine”? “If money were not an object, what would be the Car you would drive”? Or “What Celebrity would you like to have dinner with”? Gather the responses and share one or two at each meeting and then have the team guess which one belongs to each team member. Before you know it, we begin to understand and appreciate our team members and find out what motivates them too. On one of the teams I worked with, we found out that one team member’s favorite candy was “M & M’s”. It was amazing to see how many packages of “M & M’s” appeared on her desk every time she helped other team members when they were in a pinch! This proved to be a great motivator for her as well as the rest of the team!

“Two Truths and One Lie” is also a fun motivator whereby each meeting attendee writes down three statements. Two are truthful, one is pretend – they try to make it believable so it will be hard to guess. The group guesses which is the lie and then the attendee shares their truths. Do one of these for each meeting and people will actually want to attend your meetings!

You can turn those meeting disasters into motivating opportunities by using quick and easy meeting tools, assigning roles and responsibilities, getting to know your team through motivation activities, making your meetings the ones that no one wants to miss, focus on the needs of the attendees and have a good time doing it!

Jayne Gnadt is the Manager of North American Operations for MINDAVATION, a company providing project management training and consulting services, keynote presentations, leadership workshops and team building programs across the globe. Mindavation can be reached via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).


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