Ruthless Rules for Productive Meetings

Sonali Malu helps us get the most out of our meetings by being positively ruthless. The emphasis is on positive.

 Constant communication is a project manager’s main business; be it communication with peers, teams, stakeholders, supporting departments, or clients. A project manager is constantly communicating with everyone, giving advice, providing directions, negotiating, promising deliverables, and much more. 

 Meetings are an inevitable part of a project manager’s communication plan. You would think that everyone knows how to plan and facilitate a good meeting, and yet, we have all recently attended unproductive meetings. And sometimes professionals misbehave, consider these examples:

  • You have an important meeting for an upcoming feature discussion and estimation. You are supposed to submit an estimation for the feature right after the meeting to management. However, a technical architect has acquired two of your senior team members for some proposal work. And is not allowing these team members to attend your meeting.
  • • All the participants of a meeting are talking in their regional language which is not the formal way of communication. And in the end, you receive a summary in just two lines. 
  • • A senior manager suddenly hijacks your meeting and asks certain questions to participants for creating an important data presentation for the board meeting. Completely disregarding your agenda for the meeting. 
  • • A pre-planned meeting has to be postponed as a senior stakeholder is unable to join. 

Many of you have handlded situations like these, and many of you are still dealing with challenging behaviors in meetings on a regular basis.  As a project manager, what can you do?

Be ruthless! Use these eight ruthless rules for productive meetings and take back YOUR meetings!

  1. Require participants to come prepared. Provide documents, links and other information in advance and let your attendees know you expect them to be ready to handle the topic(s) outlined in your agenda. Because of course, YOU have a plan and an agenda for how to use everyone’s time efficiently.
  2. Interrupt people who go off topic. And it is definitely acceptable for you to step in and call a halt to a discussion that is off the agenda.
  3. Require invitees to respond with a definitive yes or no.  This should be in the DNA of the professionals to either accept or decline the meeting invitation. It is unprofessional to keep the meeting organizer unaware of your availability to join a meeting.
  4. Choose your participants wisely. Ensure that everyone who is available has the ability to share knowledge, express views and highlight risks.  Involve  the appropriate subject matter expert(s) (SME) as needed. Do NOT invite too many people, or people who are not really contributing to the agenda items.
  5. Take a break. Sometimes a discussion turns into a heated argument or takes a wrong turn. It can be  healthy to break for 2 minutes. In these 2 minutes ensure that everyone goes through the agenda once again, with an eye for where we are, where we need to be, and how to get back on track.
  6. Allow attendees to leave. Allow participants to leave if they do not wish to continue the discussion or they have no points left to share. As long as their agenda items have been successfully completed. 
  7. Avoid dependency on one resource. Do not depend on one person to make the decisions. This dependency on one person can bring the entire project to a standstill. This may not be feasible in smaller organizations. But it is important to know and identify people who you can rely on for judgement and for decision making. In such cases, sending minutes of meeting is always beneficial. 
  8. Create an engaging strategy. Sometimes a subject is vast and it may need 2-3 sessions to brainstorm the ideas or work on an approach. In such cases, it is important to create a strategy to keep the rhythm so that progress is not lost between the session intervals. And you want your team members to come to each session refreshed and ready to engage. At the end of each day, send out meeting notes with clear action items, and information about the next meeting. And make sure prior to the next meeting attendees know how to prepare.

I call these guidelines ruthless because they are hard to follow. People may start avoiding your meetings if you follow them thoroughly. But trust me my fellow project managers, these recommendations are always helpful when decision making is important and time is critical. 

Sonali Malu is a previous contributor to pmStudent and can be found: