As I write this epistle the meeting drags on.  The board room is full, warm, and the topic of the meeting is…well, I am not sure why we are meeting.  What is the purpose?  Will we be taking actions, making decisions, or again disbanding before committing to something?  Will we be forced to call another meeting to rehash what was or wasn’t discussed in this meeting?  

This meeting seemed important when I accepted the invitation on my calendar.  Many important players are here so it must be a critical meeting.  The monotonous voices drum in the background enticing me into an early hibernation.  The meeting crawls into its second hour with no breaks so far.  I am so disengaged that my top priority is keeping awake. The pitcher of water on the boardroom table calls to me to quench my thirst and possibly jolt me back from my semi-conscience stupor, but if I partake, my bladder may explode killing me by internal toxification.  That maybe a quicker death than death by meeting.  I dig into the dregs of my brain for something to occupy my mind so that I don’t slip into a coma and drool on the conference room table.  Ah there is a thought, I picture myself, in my mind’s eye, strolling in a high alpine meadow next to a babbling brook.  The sun is warm and the sky clear as a breeze cools my skin.  I cast my fishing rod line into the emerald waters of a nearby pristine lake and I sit down to….. no wait!!!  Too relaxing, my head is beginning to bob.  Must think of something else.  I try to imagine what it was like for Sir William Wallace to be disemboweled while still alive in the closing scenes of Bravehart.  Very graphic yet still not enough to stimulate my frontal lobes.  My chair, like the Borg, has assimilated my body and there is no possible comfortable position left and I fear I will never be able to disembark.  I look around at the undead stares from the other captives of this meeting gathered around the table.  Their eyes glazed over, lids heavy, brains deactivated.  I wonder if they have truly turned in to zombies and will I need to dive across the table and spike them in the head before they come after me to eat my brains.  I must stay awake…must keep breathing…pulse slowing…. eyes closing…. head drooping……  Wait I’ve got it, I know how to stay awake, I‘ll write another article for the  Project Management For Today Website!.  With new purpose, I grab my laptop and begin feverishly typing this article.  My actions spring new life into the meeting.  The other participants jolt back to life and look around to see if they can catch the remnants of what was said that caused me to start taking frantic notes.  Others reach for their tablets or note pads and begin scribbling some sort of notes.  Fooled them, I am not taking notes, I am cranking out the following thoughts on meetings.

I am sure you have all walked away from a meeting where you wished you could have those two hours of your life back.  A meeting where you questioned your sanity.  Meetings are key to an organization and yet can also be a detrimental part of an organization.  Meetings can consume a lot of time, energy, talent, and cost.  Based on a standard labor rate a two-hour meeting of nine managers can cost the organization more than $1,350.  It also cost the organization lost productivity.  They are necessary but must be used, like any tool, properly.   When you plan a meeting think about the ROI.  What is the return on investment to the organization for that meeting?  Will that meeting result in positive productive outcomes, cost savings, improved communications, or motivated workers? 

There are 8 types of meetings.  Strategy, Informational, Focus, Return & Report, Planning / Approval, Steering, Issues Management (barrier removal), and Community Building.

To keep all meetings valuable follow these simple guides:

  1. Meetings must have an agenda and a facilitator or leader to keep the meeting on track. Each item should have a time limit associated with it.
  2. Each type of meeting should have rules of engagement set up by the organization and the facilitator holds people to those rules during the meeting.
  3. Every meeting should have actions assigned. In the next meeting, the participants will quickly (30sec-2 min) report back on the actions.  This ensures that stuff is happening after a meeting.
  4. After each meeting conduct a quick +/Delta exercise to continuously improve future meetings. At the conclusion of the meeting draw a + and a delta on the board and poll the attendees as to what they found valuable in the meeting and what they found a waste or a distraction.
  5. Facilitator should deem when a topic is taking too much time or needs further discussion, and call a sidebar / off-line meeting between those involved. Assign actions to report back on the outcome of the sidebar.
  6. Take notes or minutes and send out to all the participants afterwards.

List all the meetings that you attend and categorize them based on the 8 types of meetings.  The above guidelines apply to all meetings, but some meetings have special purposes and slightly vary in outcome. 

Strategy:  These meetings are just as they sound. Forward thinking open discussion.  They should still abide by the meeting guidelines, but there may include more brainstorming than most other meetings.  These meetings are usually held infrequently.  To improve productivity, assign each member actions or discovery homework so that they come prepared for the meeting so that it is more productive.   

Informational meeting:   These are the sales pitches of meetings.  This is a meeting that gives general information on a given topic to the audience.  These must be carefully controlled because they can consume a lot of resources without a great deal of actions or value being added to the organization.  These also should be held infrequently or as needed.

Focus:  These are surgical strike meetings where a team of people will drill down to discover the answers to a given problem, or delve into needs.  These are valuable yet should be controlled following the meeting guidelines.  A plan, report, or action item list is usually the outcome of such a meeting.

Return & Report:  Also known as a Status meeting.  This meeting is all about performance. 

  • Upward reporting of status and downward review of accountability. Upward reporting is a review up the chain on the status of projects, products, processes, or organizational initiatives.  This meeting has good value and can often result in actions or approvals, but should be tightly controlled and formatted.  Product or project review can spawn improvements if performance is lacking and if performance is good it can inspire peers.  It can also be a huge consumer of time and resources with little return if not regulated, so monitor closely and keep the review to a short report.  Executive level reports should always be short and to the point.
  • Downward Accountability is a sub set of Return and Report where management does a deep dive review of a product, project, process, or team. It is not always a negative thing to have a deep dive, often a deep dive into a project can glean some really cool approaches or successes that should be shared with the organization.   

 

Planning and Approval:   This is a series of meetings for PMs, subject matter experts, estimators, developers, etc. where planning of work takes place.  Scope will be captured, requirements gathered, cost estimated, and schedule defined.  One of the major points of planning is to get approval to begin the work.  Usually all this planning is brought before upper management for approval to commit resources.  These meetings are critical and should follow the guidelines as to not waste any valuable time.

Steering:  Steering meetings have a broad range of sub-meetings that fit into this category.  The genre is steering or guiding.  The purpose is to steer the direction of work to be performed.  It includes: daily stand-up meetings, change management meetings, stakeholder meetings, steering committees, or realignment meetings.  These are held regularly and are important to an organization because change is inevitable and timely adjustments are key to success.  Still follow good meeting habits to not create waste.  The shorter the meeting the better.

Issues Management / Barrier Removal: This is more than just performing triage or resolving issues when they come to a head.  This is one of my favorite meetings that many organizations do not use.  This meeting is an opportunity for leaders to truly serve by making their employees more productive.  Employees can come to their leader and describe what barriers they have in front of them that hinders them from working at their potential.  That is the whole purpose (or should be) of a manager or leader.  Make the work area, process, procedures, policies, tools, and environment so free from barriers or obstacles that work will flow freely through the organization.  The leader should, in fact, be actively seeking opportunities to serve by seeking out and removing barriers to the work.  I dive into this in greater detail in my book, Unleash The Leader.  Two of my mentors Ret. Rear Admiral Pete Nanos, and Ret. General Colin Powell taught me the importance of barrier removal.  “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.  They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care.  Either case is a failure in leadership.”- Gen Colin Powell.

Community Building:  This is the feel-good type of meetings.  This is where you motivate, inspire, improve communications, teach, and bring together the workforce.  This is key to a happy and successful organization.  Held several times a year or as needed for better organizational health.  When I was Director of a PMO, I would quarterly gather my 166 employees for a team building pot-luck lunch.  In this meeting, we would share some best business practices or motivational talks over a lunch.  Northern New Mexico is known for its outstanding New Mexican cuisine.  It seemed every family had a generations old recipe for some delectable dish.  It was hard to get much work done in the mornings before the lunch meeting because every office and cubicle had a Crock-Pot simmering some delectable traditional dish.  Pozole, Enchiladas, Navajo Tacos, Sopaipillas, Chimichangas, and Biscochitos were some of the dishes to look forward to.  These meetings help make us one of the most successful and most desirable divisions to work in.

Many believe that due to our modern technology, meetings have become much more productive.  That is lacking in thought.  Skype, teleconference, Tele-Presence, VR, Web Meeting, and meeting boards are some of the new ways we meet.  Yes, it has made it more convenient, where I can meet with my staff while still at home in my pajamas, or meet with people across the globe, but it has not necessarily made them more productive.  It has brought more challenges in communication.  Voices walking over each other in a teleconference, satellite delay when meeting across the globe, people not logging into the board in a timely manner, lack of reading body language, connectivity, inability to ask timely question in a discussion format, and visual clarity are a few of the new problems we face when meeting.  It can be a lot faster to talk about issues, that to type or text every single word.  It slows the process down.  The meeting guidelines still apply when in the virtual realm.  

Meetings must be controlled to optimize its value to the organization.  If you walk out of a meeting without action items being assigned, or useful information shared, or plans being planned, or approvals, or feeling motivated, then question your rules of engagement for meetings in your office.  If your office does not have documented rules for conducting meetings, I would suggest that you hold a meeting about how to hold a meeting and define those rules of engagement.  You would not play a sport or board game without rules.  Without rules the game Clue* would be meaningless.

As for this meeting, almost three hours, there seems to be some rustling going on as if we are about to be set free.  I thought for sure the custodian would find my body still stuck to this seat later tonight.  The coroner and lead detective would be wondering what the cause of death could have been.  Would they ever guess that it was death by a meeting?  I am lucky this time, the meeting is wrapping up, the zombies are stirring back to life.  It looks like I have survived to meet again another day.

*Clue—is a murder mystery game for three to six players, devised by Anthony E. Pratt from Birmingham, England. The game was first manufactured by Waddingtons in the UK in 1949. Since then, it has been relaunched and updated several times, and it is currently owned and published by the American game and toy company Hasbro.

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Stan D. Prueitt

Stan D. Prueitt

Contributing Author

Stan D. Prueitt, a performance consultant in Process Improvement, Organizational Design, Human Design, and Project Management; holds motivational seminars, life coach workshops, Lean Six Sigma certifications, and performance seminars across the country.  Stan draws upon his colorful past experiences and associations to blend simplicity, common sense, eternal principles, humor, energy, and wisdom into a strait forward approach to self and team improvement.  His mentors and Martial Arts Masters have forged Stan into a wealth of experience and knowledge of which he freely shares.  Students of his seminars leave with recharged spiritual batteries, focused purpose, energy for new opportunity, new understanding, and a tool set to become an effective change-agent in their own lives or organizations.    

 While currently leading enterprise integration and organization and process performance initiatives for the LDS Church Educational Department, Stan still finds time to consult to private and municipal organizations on the side.   Previously he was not only a Director of Project Management at the Los Alamos National Laboratory but also one of the leaders in the Lean Six Sigma program.  Stan led a team to restructure the organization to focus on process centricity, performance, enterprise project management, and to move the overall maturity of the organization from level 1 to level 5 of the enterprise maturity model. 

As a true efficiency expert Stan wears many hats, he is a published author of 4 books, co-founder of two publicly traded renewable energy research firms, president of Thunder Ridge Wildlife Refuge, holder of one US patent and inventor of two classified weapons program inventions, adventure TV show host, Lean Six Sigma master black belt, Lean Six Sigma and Performance Management instructor, master instructor and holder of six black belts in the Martial Arts, owner of USLLC Tactical Marital Arts training center, professional off-road race driver, entrepreneur of two successful franchise chains, radio show host,  project manager for research projects, motivational speaker, certified law enforcement officer, husband and loving father of five.

 

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