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Better project meetings

How do you keep everyone on the same page when they aren’t all in the same place?

How do you keep everyone on the same page when they aren’t all in the same place?

Enter the (sometimes dreaded) Project Meeting.

Ok, maybe project meetings are not new or flashy but for most people they are a regular part of work that isn’t going away anytime soon.

These meetings get a bad wrap because they are often plagued with the same issues:

  • Endlessly repeating invites
  • Overcrowded attendee lists
  • Ambiguous or absent agendas
  • And the feeling you could have skipped this one but should come to the next meeting so you aren’t out of the loop. 

Is there a way to make project meetings more useful for your team?

Here’s what I’ve found that can improve your meetings going forward.

Find your rhythm.

Surprisingly the default 30-60 minute weekly meeting is not required by law.

Do you part to fight meeting sprawl by thinking through what cadence is most appropriate for your project.

Projects on tight timelines where each task impacts another might need a short daily sync. Longer duration projects where people can make progress independently may only need a monthly meeting.

Finding your rhythm also means deciding who needs to be at each meeting.

As the number of people involved in your project increases, the chances that they all need to be at every meeting decreases. Try adding the specific role you need each person to play in the invite. Making attendance optional for everyone with a role in that meeting frees up their time, and keeps the meeting size manageable.

Getting the cadence right helps you avoid the dreaded zombie meeting where there’s never enough on the agenda to fill the time but the meeting keeps trudging along refusing to die.Remember, when in doubt, invite fewer people and space it out.

Look back to go forward.

We all want to make progress. The faster the better. But moving faster doesn’t mean you’re moving forward. Sometimes it just means you’re going the wrong way more quickly.

Create time to slow down with your team and reflect on how the project is going. Dedicate one of your meetings at regular intervals to review what’s working and what’s not. Prepare questions to help the team reflect and ask each person to respond to each question.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Since our last retrospective (lookback) meeting, what’s gone right with the project?
  • What were our biggest obstacles?
  • What helped you the most?
  • What challenges do you see ahead?
  • What should we stop doing going forward?
  • What is something we should keep doing?
  • What is something we should start doing?
  • What’s least clear?
  • What did you learn that you want to take forward?

These sessions are great at surfacing insight and feedback from team members who don’t typically speak up in your other meetings.

Building this time into your meeting cadence allows you to spot issues early and make sure everyone is moving in the same direction.

Action oriented agenda.

You’ve got your meeting cadence down and set aside regular time for the team to reflect. Great! Now what do you do in the meeting?

An easy filter for deciding what makes it to the agenda is asking “Does this action move the project forward?”

Action, not topic.

There’s plenty of information to communicate when managing a project. Rarely is a team meeting the best place for it. If you want to avoid the dreaded “Meeting that should have been an email”, build the agenda around action.

The action might be clarifying a responsibility, gathering feedback before a direction change or reflecting as a team on the progress so far.

Reserve the last few minutes to recap what happened and any follow up needed. You’ll be surprised how much miscommunication can be prevented with a quick recap. (And be sure to write it down!)

If you’re struggling to come up with an action-oriented agenda for a specific meeting, don’t be afraid to cancel it until the next time it’s scheduled.

Agendas built around actions result in more focused and productive meetings.

Leave a trail.

Now that you have the right people meeting at the right cadence with an action oriented agenda it’s time to think about what comes after.

Most meetings suffer from a special type of entropy. The minute a meeting finishes – or dare I say a few minutes before it ends– everyone’s memory of it starts fading and drifting in different directions.

A short written summary gives attendees a useful reference to stay on the same page. It also fights the FOMO of those who couldn’t attend since they can see what happened and follow up with any questions.

Even if you’re already in the habit of sharing a recording of the meeting, summaries help people know if they should watch and roughly where to find the parts relevant to them.

When it’s time to reflect on the project with your team, these summaries can be a great resource to jog everyone’s memory.

Project meetings have earned a bad reputation, but don’t give up on them just yet.

Pull back the frustrating parts and you’ll find something incredibly useful.

To recap, getting the right rhythm of action oriented meetings accompanied by concise summaries and intentional reflection can elevate the impact of any project.

What have you seen that sets a great project meeting apart?

Have a meeting horror story to share?

Let us know at support@switchboard.app

Check out how Switchboard can take your project meetings to the next level.

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