Running an Effective Meeting – Best Practices

Meetings are a staple portion of any project management’s day-to-day duties. Whether they be in-person meetings, off-sites, video conferences or teleconferences, the requirement for project managers to be able to both participate in and host meetings is a fundamental necessity.

With that being said, what are some of the key concepts and ideas that a project manager should be cognizant of when it comes to running effective meetings? What are some of the general best practices for ensuring that a meeting functions smoothly and ends effectively?

Key Point 1: The meeting is not about YOU

Being that project managers are generally tasked with running the meetings, they naturally are going to be the ones doing most of the talking. With that being said, a common trap that many project managers fall into is that they spend far too much time dominating the meeting to drive their particular points home, that other individuals that participate are felt left out. This can lead to lower meeting participation down the road (for repeat meetings) as well as the potential for missing key discussion topics or feedback.

Key Point 2: Have an agenda

While having an overly rigid meeting handled in a Draconian fashion is never wise, there is still a need for some assemblage of structure. As such, the project manager should ALWAYS have some level of an agenda to cover in a meeting. Without a clear set of discussion topic milestones, there is a strong likelihood that the meeting will result in too much nonsensical banter back and forth. Furthermore, the likelihood of having to organize follow-up meetings becomes more necessary since key discussion topics are not covered when they should have been. So while its important to give participants the opportunity to bring up their own topics, be certain that you at least have some form of key discussion points that need covering.

Key Point 3: The meeting is a team effort

A bit of a segway from point 1, the project manager should always strive to foster a meeting environment that is collaborative. Afterall, that is the primary reason for a meeting in the first place. Individuals with specific levels of expertise and knowledge in key areas are brought in to discuss certain topic points and come to a consensus as to how things should proceed. The main function of the project manager is to both bring ideas to the table and ensure that ideas brought in my participants of the meeting are also shared.

Key Point 4: The meeting should stay on topic

In many meeting situations, it is easy to stray off topic. This can occur when a particular discussion point is raised that acts as a catalyst for other areas of discussion. Now while it’s important to not stifle discussion, it is equally important to make sure that the key agenda points are covered. So when the meeting seems to be straying from its core agenda, the project manager must act as the referee, especially when the meeting has a finite time allotted to it. If discussion on a particular topic is outside of the scope of the current meeting, acknowledge that it will be addressed in a subsequent meeting and make sure to note it. That will ensure that meeting participants do not feel like they are wasting their breath when bringing up new topics of discussion.

Key Point 5: The meeting should produce something

Meetings are all about discussion and collaboration. However, they are meant to have some sort of an end result. If there are discussions to be had, decisions to be made or milestones to set, then those should be the success factors for the meeting. Many times, especially with recurring meetings, complacency can set in and meetings can just end up droning on and on. This ends up producing a malaise for the meeting participants and also leads to a tremendous amount of wasted time. The project manager running the meeting should have, in addition to the agenda, some key areas of closure listed. i.e. if there are decisions that need to be made, they should be made and not left to linger. The more drawn out the meetings become, the higher the likelihood of wasted effort and schedule slippage.

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