“Whoever invented the meeting must have had Hollywood in mind. I think they should consider giving Oscars for meetings: Best Meeting of the Year, Best Supporting Meeting, Best Meeting Based on Material from Another Meeting.” – William Goldman (Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1983)
Once in a while it happens, the spontaneous amazing magical meeting. A team gets together and has productive and energetic discussion. Everyone is highly engaged and stays focused and on topic. Everyone walks away knowing that their time was well spent.
Does this happen with your team meetings? Or are you still waiting for some meeting magic to occur? Don’t wait for the magic make it happen. Magical meetings do not materialize because the stars have aligned; they materialize when you work hard to make them happen. Magical meetings are the result of going beyond the basics of agendas, starting and ending on time and taking notes.
Timing is everything – Do you select your meeting time because a conference room is available and MOST attendees are free? It can be frustrating simply trying to get a group together, but that does not mean you should grab the first open time slot for your meeting. Unless your meeting is an emergency, pick a time of day that works for the majority of attendees. Not the very first or the very last 30 minutes of the day, and not during mealtimes unless you are catering.
Location, location, location – That old real estate adage is true for meetings too. It is not just a case of any available conference room will do. Try to find a location that is comfortable, with enough seating, adequate temperature control and accommodates your technology requirements. If you must settle for a location that is less than adequate, then acknowledge the shortcomings of your location and try to work around them. It also does not hurt to shorten the duration of the meeting and perhaps include some special perk for attendees for being good sports.
Speak up – If your attendees cannot hear you or one another, then nothing was really said. Consider your audio/visual requirements carefully. If you need a microphone or sound system, then make sure you have one. Arrive early and test it. Have a back up plan in case you experience technical difficulties. It is frustrating for you and your audience to sit and wait for sound checks, system reboots and other equipment tests. The longer people wait, the more pressure there is for the rest of your meeting to be beyond perfect.
It’s not an eye exam – If you are using visuals, make sure that they are clear, not overly complicated and easy to view. MOST people will not complain if what you display is too large (as long as it is scaled properly), but MANY people will have a difficult time with images that are too small, too blurry etc. Test it yourself in advance from the back of the room. Stay away from fancy fonts and red text or light colored text.
Curate your guest list – All of your careful planning can go awry if the right people are not included or if the wrong people are included. In a perfect world you only invite those who are absolutely necessary in order to have good productive discussions. In a perfect world you can keep enemies and rivals apart. In the real world you often must include unnecessary people for political reasons. Sometimes you have to have warring factions in the same room. Sometimes this can be productive and helpful. If not, you might invite them to separate sessions. For those who want to attend, but are not really necessary, perhaps offer them a recap or a follow-up session. You can frame it like this, “I know how busy you are, perhaps I can come see you and catch you up on our session.”
Be a good host/hostess – Be aware of how your audience is responding to the meeting. If something changes, the temperature or the lighting or the mood, ask people if they are comfortable. Do what is within your power to bring people back to a productive frame of mind.
Know when to call it quits – You already know that good meetings end on time. Sometimes it is necessary to end early. If all planned business has been accomplished, consider letting people go. Everyone loves having extra time back in his or her schedule. Beyond this, if the meeting conditions just are not right, the audio/visual is not working, or maybe the room is uncomfortable or the timing is off, call the meeting to an end and coordinate a reschedule. It is tempting to just push ahead, but consider your results carefully. Will pushing people to continue when they are clearly uncomfortable provide the right results? Not sure? Ask the group. Sometimes just putting it out there, that perhaps we should try again, helps people to decide together to make things work. If so, it is now a group decision and not you disregarding their needs in the name of productivity.
If the above sounds like some of the basics of event planning, well then – good! Magical meetings are events. Events that people actually look forward to with enthusiasm. There really is no mystery behind the magic – YOU make it happen!
Go make magic!
“Maybe if I am a good participant I will be invited to more meetings.” – Anonymous, perhaps no one, at least not with happy anticipation.
Informal research shows that the majority of people do not enjoy meetings. In MOST groups of people only one or two of them will indicate that they like attending meetings. A significant number will indicate that they do not enjoy meetings, while a smaller percentage will claim that they are indifferent to them. Who are these people and where was this research conducted? Good question!
Research participants were project managers or project managers to be, because the question, “Who enjoys attending meetings?” was posed to them while they attended courses on project management. And who conducted the research? Well, I did. This leads to discussion about why most people do not enjoy meetings, which in turn leads to discussion on how to make meetings effective. The majority of the group is willing to concede that there are some meetings worth attending, perhaps even enjoyable. Our job as project managers is to ensure that when we conduct meetings we make them valuable and even enjoyableIt helps our attendees when we are organized and prepared. Good facilitation is appreciated. But we cannot do it all by ourselves. We need good participants. What makes a good participant? Thank you for asking!
Returning to our opening quote, “Maybe if I am a good participant I will be invited to more meetings.” You are going to be invited to meetings, being a good participant should not change the frequency. But it will change how people perceive you. Meetings are an opportunity to showcase your professionalism, make sure you put your best behaviors on display.
“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden
The best time for you to imagine your worst-case scenario is long before it ever happens. You are not engaging in negative thinking, YOU are being strategic. The best time for you to imagine the best-case scenario is long before it ever happens. You are not just engaging in wishful thinking, you are being strategic.
Risk comes when we do not know what we are doing. And each project we manage has an element of the unknown. This could result in threats to our success or it could result in opportunities.
The minute that a project idea is discussed is when you and your team should start thinking, “What could happen?” You are not shooting down an idea, and you are not being unrealistic. You are helping to ensure the success of this new project. The better prepared that you can be, the more likely you are to be able to navigate those unknown and unplanned events.
Yes, you can prepare for the unknown.
You never want your project sponsor to look at you and say, “YOU should have seen that coming.” Perhaps it is more reasonable to say, you never want your sponsor to look at you and say, “YOU should have seen that coming,” AND know that they are right.
If you and your team have done a good job with risk identification and in prioritizing your risks and preparing responses for those risks, then you know whether or not it was reasonable to see something coming. Some risks truly are the ‘unknown, unknowns’, while others are the ‘known, unknowns’. When you are able to assemble the right people with a depth of experience, you will be able to capture the risks that your project is likely to face. It is OK if some of you are new, as long as you have access to someone who has been involved in similar efforts. When you are new, some risks will be beyond your level of experience. To you, they might feel like ‘unknown, unknowns’. With experience your list of the ‘known, unknowns’ grows and you develop a sense of understanding exactly what it is that could happen on your way to project completion.
Accept the fact that your project plans will change. And risks that become a reality are a type of change that you will experience. For the most likely and most impactful risks you will have responses. In this way, as our opening quote indicates, things will turn out best for you because with your risk responses prepared, you are able to make the best of the way things turn out. See how that works?
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“Don’t you recognize me? I am Sal. Your team member?”
The unfortunate truth was that Mary Carol did not recognize Sal. She knew someone from the team would pick her up at the airport. In fact, as he introduced himself, she did remember that it would be Sal who picked her up. But she had no idea what Sal looked like. Fortunately Sal recognized Mary Carol.
As they were exiting the airport, Sal commented again, “Don’t you know who I am? My picture is on our team site.” Immediately Mary Carol realized her mistake. She could have very easily looked at the team website and looked at Sal’s picture. She then also would have remembered more about him. She tried to brush it off as a combination of jet lag, plus asking if he had cut his hair differently. But he knew better.
Mary Carol had not only missed an opportunity to strengthen a bond with a team member, she had weakened that bond. She could tell that Sal was disappointed. After all, he had taken the time to know who she was. Did she think that because she was the boss, she did not have to know her team? Did she think that because they worked across the globe that she did not have to get to know them?
Mary Carol did NOT think she was better than her team and she did NOT think that she did not need to know her team members. The truth is she just did not think. In her preparations for her trip, she did not take time to think about accessing the team website in order to get to know those she was visiting. She prepared reports and presentations. She forgot to prepare for the people.
If asked about the team website, Mary Carol would definitely have spoken favorably of it. Her thought was that the team website gave the team members a good way to connect and to share and to get to know one another. The way in which she expressed these thoughts offered up a clue to the attitude that would place her in her current awkward situation with Sal. Mary Carol did not think the team website was for her, she thought that it was for THEM. This revealed a mindset of us or me versus them. Mary Carol was not thinking of herself as part of the team. She had two challenges to work on as a leader, the first was to understand that in preparing to deliver reports and presentations, she also needed to understand and get to know her audience. The second was to remember that tools used by the team are for her use too. Especially tools that are aimed at helping build and strengthen team relationships.
For the rest of her time with Sal and his co-workers Mary Carol felt uncomfortable. She knew she had made a mistake, one that was easily avoidable and one that she would not make again.
And of course YOU know better too!