Managing Team Meetings
Team meetings are conducted differently depending on the purpose of the meeting, the leadership style that is appropriate for the meeting, and the personality types of the members of the team.
Action Item Meetings
Action item meetings are short meetings to develop a common understanding of what the short-term priorities are for the project, individual roles, and expectations for specific activities. This type of meeting is for sharing, not problem solving. Any problems that emerge from the discussion are assigned to a person, and another meeting is established to address the issue. Action item meetings focus on short-term activities, usually less than a week in duration.
The action item meeting is fact based and information oriented. It is a left-brain-type focus. The action item meeting has very little dialogue except to ask clarification questions. If discussion is needed or disagreement is not easily resolved, another problem-solving meeting is established to deal with that issue. On smaller topics, that meeting might take place immediately after the action item meeting and only include those people with an interest in the outcome of the discussion.
The project manager keeps the successful action item meeting short in duration and focused on only those items of information needed for the short-term project plan. The project manager will restate the common understandings of what activities are priorities and who will be responsible for the activities. Often these meetings can include a review of safety procedures or security procedures when these issues are important to the project. The leadership approach to action item meetings focuses on data, actions, and commitments. Although the project manager may observe stresses between project team members or other issues, they are not addressed in this meeting. These are fact-based meetings. If issues begin to arise between people, the project manager will develop other opportunities to address these issues in another forum. Using the Myers-Briggs descriptions, team members who favour thinking more than feeling and judging more than perceiving are more comfortable with this type of meeting.
Management meetings are longer in duration and are focused on planning. They are oriented toward developing plans, tracking progress of existing plans, and making adjustments to plans in response to new information.
These meetings include focused discussion on generating a common understanding of the progress of the existing plan. This discussion is based on quantitative information provided on the progress of the schedule and other data, but the discussion is qualitative in evaluating the data to develop a more complete understanding of the data. The experience and opinions of the project leaders are solicited, and disagreement about meaning of the data is even encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of the data. Through this discussion, a common understanding of the status of the project should emerge, and the project manager invites discussion, invites people to offer their thoughts, and assures that disagreements are positive discussions about interpretation of the information and that disagreements do not become personal.
Management meetings also focus on developing mid-term goals. For larger, more complex projects, the goals may be monthly or even quarterly. For smaller or less complex projects, weekly goals will provide the focus. The project manager focuses the discussion on the broad priorities for the next period and includes all the functional leaders in the discussion. The goals that emerge from the discussion should represent a common understanding of the priorities of the project for the next term.
For example, during the early phases of a project, the team is focused on developing a conceptual understanding of the project. A major milestone on complex projects is typically the completion of the conceptual plan. The project manager would lead a discussion on what needs to be accomplished to meet the project milestone and asks what potential barriers exist and what key resources are needed. From the discussion, the project team develops a few key goals that integrate the various functions of the project team and focus the team on priorities.
The following are some examples of goals during the conceptual phase:
- Developing a list of the procurement long-lead items and defining critical dates
- Developing a human resources plan that identifies critical positions
- Developing and building agreement with the client on the project scope of work
Each of these goals is measurable and has a time frame specified. They can be developed as positive motivators and will take the project leaders and most of the project team to accomplish. They develop a general understanding of the priorities and are easy to remember.
Management meetings are a combination of left-brain thinking, which is fact based, and right-brain thinking, which is creative and innovative. Using the Myers-Briggs terminology, team members who prefer feeling over thinking and perceiving over judging can contribute ideas and perspectives on the project that the more fact-oriented members might miss.
The project manager allows and encourages conversation in developing and evaluating the goals but focuses the discussion on the goals and obstacles. Management meetings take on a different focus during the month. Meetings at the beginning of the month spend time addressing the progress and potential barriers to the goals developed the previous month. During the middle of the month, the project manager leads the team to develop next month’s goals as the team also works on the current month’s goals. Toward the end of the month as the goals for the month are accomplished, the meeting focuses more on the next month, enabling the team to remain goal focused during the life of the project.
Management meetings are also an opportunity to discover obstacles to goal achievement. The project team reallocates resources or develops alternative methods for accomplishing the goals. As the project team discusses the progress of project goals, the project manager explores possible obstacles and encourages exposing potential problems in achieving goals. The project manager focuses the team on finding solutions and avoids searching for blame.
The project manager uses a facilitative leadership approach, encouraging the management team to contribute their ideas, and builds consensus on what goals will bring the appropriate focus. The project manager keeps the focus on developing the goals, tracking progress, identifying barriers, and making adjustments to accomplish the management goals. Although there are typically meetings for scheduling and procurement and other meetings where goals are established and problems solved, the management meeting and the goal development process create alignment among the project leadership on the items critical to the project’s success.
Leadership meetings are held less frequently and are longer in length. These meetings are used by the project manager to reflect on the project, explore the larger issues of the project, and back away from the day-to-day problem solving. The project manager will create a safe environment for sharing thoughts and evaluations of issues that are less data oriented. This is a right-brained, creative meeting that focuses on the people issues of the project: the relationship with the client, vendors, and project team. Team members who favour feeling, perceiving, and intuition often contribute valuable insights in this type of meeting. The team might also share perceptions by upper management and perceptions of the community in which the project is being executed. Where the time frame for action item meetings is in weeks and management meetings is in months, the time frame for leadership meetings is longer and takes in the entire length and impact of the project.
The project manager’s meeting management skill includes creating the right meeting atmosphere for the team discussion that is needed. For discussions based on data and facts, the project manager creates the action item type meeting. The conversation is focused on sharing information and clarification. The conversation for leadership meetings is the opposite. Discussion is more open ended and focused on creativity and innovation. Because each type of meeting requires a different meeting atmosphere, mixing the purposes of a meeting will make it difficult for the project manager to develop and maintain the appropriate kind of conversation.
Skilled project managers know what type of meeting is needed and how to develop an atmosphere to support the meeting type. Meetings of the action item type are focused on information sharing with little discussion. They require efficient communication of plans, progress, and other information team members need to plan and execute daily work. Management type meetings are focused on developing and progressing goals. Leadership meetings are more reflective and focused on the project mission and culture.
These three types of meetings do not cover all the types of project meetings. Specific problem-solving, vendor evaluation, and scheduling meetings are examples of typical project meetings. Understanding what kinds of meetings are needed on the project and creating the right focus for each meeting type is a critical project management skill.