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Need to Run a Productive Meeting? Channel Your Inner Movie Director

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by Michelle Baker

Top-5-100x81Does the thought of running a status meeting for a major project make you want to run away? Do the duties of a project manager seem overwhelming, mundane or just too process-oriented? Without a skilled manager, a project can languish or even take a wrong turn. A project manager has the responsibility of creating and keeping momentum, tracking critical tasks, monitoring progress and shepherding action items to their completion. One of the most important functions of a project manager is to conduct regular meetings that keep the project stakeholders – who may represent cross-functional areas or even service provider firms – working together to achieve the project goals.

But a typical professional can spend up to a third of his or her working time in meetings. While meetings may be considered sacred ground for crucial communication, decision-making and collaboration, too often, they are not. And, in the world of business, an unproductive meeting wastes more than just time.

We often forget that it takes a healthy dose of emotional intelligence to run a concise and productive meeting. If you want to create a strong culture around project meetings, think of yourself as a movie director, and think of every meeting as a production. Your team looks to you for direction. How you start the meeting, transition to new topics and wrap up the meeting can have a major impact on the spirit of the team and its ongoing productivity.

Here are the Top 5 ways to set the stage for an effective meeting:

  1. Lights. Before the meeting, prepare for a fruitful discussion by creating an agenda with specific timeframes to discuss relevant topics. Share the agenda 24 hours ahead of time and engage participants by asking for their input. Though this may be considered Business 101, most regular meetings lack a formal agenda. When a meeting goes off the rails, the chances that it will accomplish its goals plummet. You have everyone in one place for a set period of time; don’t squander it.
  2. Camera. Covering the basics is more important than you might think – and will likely save you time in the long run. Take care of logistical details, such as arriving to the physical or virtual meeting room ahead of others. Dial into the conference line and set up the webinar or video-sharing capabilities before your project stakeholders arrive. The significance of setting a tone of punctuality and productivity cannot be overestimated.
  3. Action! Step into the director role by confirming who is in attendance and introducing the scope of the day’s discussion. If your meeting includes team members who are calling or videoconferencing in, set expectations to ensure everyone can actively participate. Ask people to mute themselves when they aren’t talking and to speak directly into the microphone when they are. These basic ground rules will help get the action rolling under the best of possible circumstances.
  4. Engage your audience. Facilitate the discussion by asking for status updates on specific items and engaging the subject matter experts with specific questions. Check the time regularly – not to stunt the progress of the discussion but out of respect for your team members’ time. In case the discussion needs to continue or if you determine the group needs to meet again, communicate the need and the urgency.
  5. Keep the interest level high. Your responsibility is to stay on top of trackable items for team members and to discern and clearly communicate what is needed to move forward on the project’s scope. Don’t adjourn a meeting without capturing action items and detailing specific next steps. Roll the credits by thanking everyone for their time. After the meeting, follow up with the group via the collaboration tool of your team’s choice to share notes and a reminder about the next meeting.

Even for projects that run over the course of many years, preparation and clear direction keep meetings well-attended and productive. Because meetings often are the heartbeat of a project, they must be regular, focused, collaborative and action-oriented. Even when projects hit obstacles or delays, the show must go on. When the camera comes on for a project meeting, a skilled project manager will bring it alive.

ISG helps enterprises organize, support and complete special projects and strategic initiatives across departmental lines. The ability of our project managers to organize and manage client meetings is critical to their success. Contact me to discuss how ISG can help you.

About the author

Michelle Baker is a Senior Consultant in ISG’s Governance Services organization. Her corporate background includes the healthcare, automotive, utility, and advertising industries. She is an experienced PMP credentialed Project Manager, with 15 years of professional experience. She understands both waterfall and Agile project management methodologies. She pays attention to the big picture of business strategy even during the tactical phases of project execution.