Project Team Meetings are rarely identified as a risk event for a project’s success. Yet, non-productivity during these collaboration sessions is highly probable and can be very costly.
The Muse published an infographic based on industry literature from 2013/20141:
- 25MM meetings are held in the US every day
- $37B per year is spent on unproductive meetings
- 33% per year of middle manager’s time is spent on meetings. Their bosses believe that 66% of those meetings are useless.
You could have spent more than a month in the Bahamas and be just as productive for the year.
These meetings are initiated and attended by knowledgeable, competent people. Resources for how to improve meetings are as easy to find as reading a book or Googling. There are good ideas, but only effective if specifically tailored to your team. Teams are unique due to their set objectives and the individuals that form them.
So why do most of these meetings = black hole vacuums of time and productivity?
- Poor communication of meeting objectives.
A project or organizational leader has information that they would like to disseminate, but the host doesn’t always communicate the purpose before or during the meeting, which results in misalignment. Attendees are often left to guess their role, unsure if they should be reviewing material, asking questions, reacting to the data with proposed changes, or unquestionably agreeing with the presenter.
- Attendees lack focus or multi-task during the meeting.
Most people tend to think that their physical presence in a meeting is more important than the overall objective. If attendees are uncertain of or uninterested in the meeting’s purpose, they often become disengaged, filling the percieved “non-productive” time with other tasks instead.
- Behavior decorum is assumed.
Many unintended, disrespectful behaviors can manifest in meetings when expectations are unclear. These behaviors can be as simple as arriving late or forgetting to silence a cell phone. Some are more damaging such as interruptions, abrasive communication, or condescending tones.
Attitudes need to change by approaching meetings as Think-Tank collaborative sessions. Considering the monetary sum of the attendees’ hourly rates, each person is paid to be engaged and bring their strengths forward.
How do we make meetings more productive?
Productive meetings can be a challenge. Often, attendees are company leaders or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who value their time and possess unique communication and working methods. However, many will buy-in to a set of agreed upon guidelines if they are part of the development process. For better accountability, guidelines should always be accessible and visible.
Develop guidelines to create a one-page Meeting Playbook
Professional sports team coaches use a Playbook to coordinate the different roles of their team members at their most critical, collaborative timeframe. Why shouldn’t you?
What do you include in the guidelines?
To improve buy-in, meeting playbooks need to be tailored specifically for the team's unique dynamics. Playbooks should be crafted to ensure the successful completion of the goal for the meeting and the overall project. These are some considerations:
Determine the meeting’s primary purpose and establish clear goals. Is this an informational update, decision-making session, or brainstorming session? Does a problem need to be solved, or do the appropriate questions need to be generated before solving the problem? Determine the relevant leaders or SMEs required for each meeting.
Per Katzenbach and Smith, “Performance is the crux of the matter for teams.”2 Challenges to completing objectives can be specific to the meeting purpose. Collaborative sessions for developing recommendations versus creating or developing products versus managing systems, products, or other teams will manifest group dynamics.
Ed Catmull, former president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, would arrange the room’s layout and chairs specifically for a meeting’s purpose or to avoid hierarchical positioning that interfered with meeting productivity3.2. LOGISTICS
Determine the needed frequency, preferred dates and times, and duration of the meetings. Things to keep in consideration are different time zones for virtual team members, varied work shifts, and meeting-free time blocks.
Assign Meeting Leader, Minutes recorder/writer, and timekeeper responsibilities to assure efficient time management. How are tangent discussions dealt with or “parked?”
Determine the factors for decision making – what are the constraints for the team? Which decisions need to be forwarded to the project owner or executive?
Create a D/RACI (Driver/Responsible, Approver, Contributor, and Informed) matrix to avoid endless campaigning for competing proposals. Include a strategy to resolve stalemates.3. MEETING MATERIALS
Develop guidelines regarding agenda and meeting material preparation, including proposals and distribution. Define the actions per agenda item, such as updates, feedback requests, or decision making. This will help promote more productive meetings.
Consider distributing materials two days before the meeting if you have non-native English-speaking attendees.
Determine what to include in the Meeting Minutes and length of the document. Develop guidelines for approvals and distribution.4. BEHAVIOR
Develop guidelines for digital disruptions such as texting, phone calls, e-mails, and working on laptops. Clearly define respectful behavior expectations to avoid miscommunication. With a very diverse work culture, agreement of acceptable behavior is critical to prevent interruptions, condescending or aggressive tones, sarcasm, etc.
Venue changes that affect people’s behaviors can also enforce the Playbook. Stand up, short meetings (usually 15 min or less) are routinely used by teams implementing Agile Project Management methodology to guarantee a focused, prioritized, and succinct meeting4.5. MEETING HEALTH CHECK
Atlassian, a software development company that shares Team Playbooks and meeting tools online, recommends creating a health checklist, and periodically pulsing the team5. Knowledge alignment of each factor amongst team members is rated with a red, yellow, or green rating. Measured metrics include accountability, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, outlined deliverables, task dependencies, etc. Essentially, the health checklist measures the cohesiveness of a team by measuring agreement on the shared vision.
Time is our most precious resource.
We have the power to harness effective collaborations in our meetings.
About the Author:
Melissa is a team-focused Life Sciences and Pharmaceutical Project/ Program Manager harnessing the strengths of stakeholders and resources, leveraging team dynamics into completion of quality driven projects within constraints. She has 20+ years of lab bench work and operations management in various phases of drug development. Melissa's track record of strategic planning often reducing project duration and material cost up to 20%.
- https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-much-time-do-we-spend-in-meetings-hint-its-scary. Tools and Skills on the TheMuse.com. Accessed 11Oct2019
- The Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, McKinsey & Company 1993
- Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the way of Inspiration, Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. Transworld Publishers 2014
- https://kanbanize.com/blog/running-a-better-stand-up-meeting/com. Accessed 17Oct2019
- https://www.atlassian.com/team-playbook/health-monitor/project-teams. Atlassian.com. Accessed 11Oct2019