Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) once praised her boss for “trying to make meetings as productive as possible.” According to her, Mark Zuckerberg “asks people to send materials in advance so we can use the time for discussion” and “we try to be clear about our goal when we sit down for a meeting–are we in the room to make a decision or to have a discussion?”
At first, I thought Ms. Sandberg was being sarcastic: Can you really call those “efficiency tricks”? But then I had to admit that outside a limited ‘club’ of a few strong managers I have worked with, almost none of the business meetings that I have audited could be considered efficient.
Now the good news. The ‘tricks’ that make your meetings productive are not new or hard to learn, you can easily get ahead of Zuck (although he may be getting some extensive coaching right now); it is just a matter of self-discipline. Well, almost.
Just think about your next meeting as if it’s a project.
That means it has a budget, a timeline, and a scope. Of course, your team involvement is key to the project success. With that in mind, here’s your project meeting management plan:
- Make the Goal of your meeting crystal clear. In most cases, the purpose of your meeting can be rolled up into one of the following:
- Firefighting (a solution to a problem must be worked out and accepted by all to act upon)
- Checkpoint ‘confirmation’ ‘same page’ information sharing (status updates, reports, outlook)
- Team development (team-building, lessons learned, all-hands, peer coaching)
Of course, there will be some combinations and shades in between, but it is better to start with the simplest possible model.
- Define your scope, budget and timeline and create your meeting management plan. With the Goal in mind, develop the following:
- List of Attendees
Agenda is your scope and timeline; effective PMs stick to the plan, never going over, seldom below. List of attendees – your core team – is your budget; you do not want to blow it. Appendices contain your ‘specs’, i.e. all inputs that the attendees need to be aware of.
There may be special cases, and certainly there will be some, but take this as PM 2.0 best practices:
- No meeting should last longer than 1 hour; if your agenda is longer, you do not have a clear focus; no team is able to stay efficient for more than one hour
- Unless this is a checkpoint meeting, your team (the number of attendees) should not exceed 7 (OK, plan for 10 maximum); bigger teams create inefficiencies.
- Yes, that could mean more meetings to you; but if your goal is efficiency and you know your KPIs, the bottom-line result will be positive.
This planning phase will take some effort, but as with all projects, your investment in planning will pay royally during the implementation.
During this phase, you should also make sure that you have the necessary space and equipment booked, the invitations are sent out well in advance, and the ‘Appendices’ are forwarded to all attendees at least one working day before the meeting.
- The ‘implementation’, i.e. the actual meeting, consists of the ‘hard’ and the ‘soft’ parts.
- The ‘hard’ part is about being on time, enforcing your ‘house rules’ (e.g., mute cellphones, close laptops), taking detailed minutes and having them sent out promptly to the team and key stakeholders. Of course, your minutes will include clear action items, names and dates. Basically, the two Zuck’s ‘tricks’ mentioned earlier belong here as well.
- The ‘soft’ part is about having your entire team (all the attendees) involved and engaged. This is where PM 2.0 is different from the traditional PM, and most likely Zuck doesn’t know this if his reports talk about the ‘hard’ part only. True, it will take some time to learn the ‘tricks’, to accept them rather, but it is the ‘soft’ part that has the greatest impact on the meeting (and project) effectiveness.
You may, at some stage, consider gauging your team alignment with this tool: CLCTVR Q7. Although you may not have the luxury to replace your meeting attendees or exchange team members, more and more leader use it in order to get a better insight into their team dynamics and performance potential.
In fact, these soft ‘tricks’ are very straightforward. For example, greet your team heartily when opening the meeting. Praise your team members in front of everybody whenever they deserve it – and be sincere. Encourage everyone to participate and share their opinion, calling them out personally and ‘going around the table’ before closing the meeting.
Be humble with your team: after all, it is them who deliver, you only monitor the progress and curry favor with them by praising their success.
At the same, without being rude, be adamant about your ‘house rules’, ban latecomers, offer the usual ramblers to register their ideas in the ‘parking lot’, and make sure that you do not have non-contributing members on your next meeting budget. Soon you’ll hear that people are actually enjoying your ‘house rules’ and attempt to propagate them in their own departments. Good things are addictive.
- As a separate item, although it’s a standard soft “trick” of PM 2.0, reserve some time to solicit participants’ feedback in the end or right after the meeting, and make sure that you act upon it. This will improve team involvement, and the feedback may be used as an ice-breaker for the next meeting, creating the right mood and a feeling of security in your team.
This last ‘trick’ is more important than it sounds. Indeed, it loops the PDCA circle, making your progress towards Meeting Excellence sustainable and unstoppable.