How to run a stellar project meeting

How to run a stellar project meeting

We share with you five tips for creating meetings with extra purpose and energy

By Marion Thomas and Sarah Walton

All project meetings should strive to be stellar. If you want people to show up and engage, you need to create an environment that people want to be part of.

Before you know it, your week can be consumed by meetings. Often, they become a chore to be managed alongside your work rather than the mechanism to deliver it. How do you make your project meetings more effective? And by that we mean, useful, productive and enjoyable. Yes, that is right – we are striving for enjoyable. We might not always achieve it, but it’s definitely not going to happen if we don’t try.

We consider everyone who is part of our project meetings to be part of our *Tribe especially given that so many projects no longer have dedicated project teams. Tribe is one of the 5T’S of the ExtraordinaryPM Framework inspired by the work of Seth Godin explored in his book, “Tribes. We need you to lead us.” Seth defines a Tribe as a “Group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” He goes on to say that “a group needs only two things to be a Tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

We think of our project meetings in their many guises with varying attendees in the context of our project Tribe. We are working with our Tribe to ensure that we are moving towards our Target*, focussing on the ‘Big Why’, as much as the what and the how of the project scope.

Here are five practical ideas that we have used in our project meetings when we sense something extra is needed.

1. Use Positive Intentional energy

We learnt this one while working on a service turnaround project that had monthly contract performance reviews with the customer. The meeting was a half-day of torture, reviewing progress against over 150 improvement actions. The project was making progress but there was still a lot to do and the meeting just felt like we were being summoned for a monthly beating. The customer team was permanently angry, while the project team was tired and defensive.

After several months of dreading this monthly trial, we decided to change our approach, so we intentionally arrived at the meeting with a sunny disposition and a sense of humour, smiling and being cheerful. It was such a shock to everyone that the whole dynamic shifted. We did the same for the second meeting and soon things began to turn around, the customer was less anxious and the whole process became far more collaborative.

We all bring an energy with us when we attend a meeting. It will be based on how we feel about the people in the meeting, the content of the meeting and everything else that is impacting us. As the facilitator of any meeting, your energy is critical for setting its tone. What we suggest is that you should be intentional in your choice of energy and stick with it regardless of the initial response. Sometimes just coming into a meeting with a different or unexpected energy can be the catalyst you need to unlock a problem.

The trick is to prepare. Ahead of your meeting, get clear on your intentions, the energy you want use and muster the courage to shake things up. Just before you go in, take 10 minutes, to get grounded in your values and focus on what really matters about the project. Take a deep breath and be in the energy you intend to bring. It’s a bit like the All Blacks doing the haka before a rugby game.

2. Strive to surprise

Regular project meetings can become predictable and uninspiring – particularly in the middle of a project when things are often not going entirely to plan. If you feel people are not fully engaged in your meetings reenergise them by changing something.

While your meetings still need to cover all the agenda items, they don’t have to be in the same order each time or in the same format. Every now and then do something unexpected to keep people alert. For example make decisions first rather than starting with the status update, ask people to give their updates only in terms of impact on other teams, change the order of the updates – anything that will keep the meeting from being predictable.

A favourite of ours is to randomly throw in an icebreaker, such as sharing something you are proud of inside or outside work. Whilst icebreakers are sometimes regarded as facile they can be effective if facilitated well and not overused. People will start looking forward to meeting to find out what wacky exercise might be used, and it all helps everyone on the team to get to know each better.

3. Make it personal

How often have you attended a project meeting and sat there wondering why you were invited or what you can contribute? Inviting ‘every man and his dog’ to every meeting is one way to ensure that nothing slips through the net, but it can also lead to a group of disengaged people.

Be clear, for every meeting or forum, why every person who has been invited needs to attend, what you are expecting from them. A simple one-page terms of reference document for each regular meeting is all that is needed. Don’t forget to review and update these regularly. If you are still struggling to get someone engaged, then a personal email or call to back up the meeting invite can be more compelling. Whilst this takes more time, it will pay off during the meeting.

Equally, think about who you might want to stand down from a particular meeting. Having someone in a meeting just to keep them informed is often not a valuable use of their time. A personal briefing on the issues impacting them maybe more effective, or alternatively a personal email highlighting the areas of the minutes which are relevant to them.

Don’t forget that the people you have in the room will respond differently and at different times. Introverts might not want to speak up unless specifically invited. Extroverts might want to hold the floor. Some people need time to assimilate information whilst others will respond immediately. You cannot change the way people work, but you can help them all to find their voices so that you get the full value from everyone’s contribution.

4. Schedule gaps

Why not schedule your meetings for 25 or 55 minutes? This will give your attendees time between meetings to grab a coffee or go to the toilet. Everybody complains that meetings never start on time, but if everyone is running from one meeting to the next, common sense dictates that people will be late. It is far wiser to create gaps between meetings in your calendar.

With a more practical schedule, you will find that the attention levels in each meeting will increase and the quality of decision-making will improve. Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ to a non-essential meeting request – and allow your team to do the same.

5. ”Free from” meetings days

Schedule days for the whole team to be free from regular project meetings. This has two advantages: it’s a whole day for people to make progress on their deliverables, plus a day when everybody is likely to be available in the event that you need a workshop or an urgent issue resolution meeting. This is a really challenging objective and you will need to consider which managers or stakeholders can give you the ‘air cover’ to enable you to achieve this.

Ideally, don’t make this day a Friday – which is usually the best day for having virtual meetings and allowing people to work from home – so that everyone in the meeting has the same experience rather than some people being in the room while others are on the phone. Having ‘free from meeting’ days also sends the message that meetings need to be held in a focused and intentional way – they are not just habits or necessary evils of the project world.

All project meetings should strive to be ‘stellar.’ If you want people to show up and engage, you need to create an environment that people want to be part of. Have the confidence to try something a bit different – you may be surprised by the results. Acquiring the reputation for calling and holding highly effective meetings with the right participants, and communicating their outcomes to those who need to know, can transform your project.

 

If you need help with running good meetings there are some useful articles in the References below:

  • The Seven Secrets of Successful Virtual Meetings – Penny Pullan
  • Making project meetings work – Penny Pullan
  • How to run an effective business meeting – Adam Bryant (New York Times)
  • 5 Best Meeting Practices Every Leader Should Follow – David Finkel
  • First published in the Spring 2020 issue of Project

 

*Tribe is one of the 5T’s of the ExtraordinaryPM Framework. Your Tribe is much wider than your team. It is those people you need to build connections with around a shared goal, the Target (another of the 5T’s), in order to get the best from the people around you – whether they’re taking action, controlling risks or delivering a physical product.

On our courses, we show you how to lead and influence, inspiring your colleagues, peers and stakeholders to step up and become more effective and engaged. Because building better collaboration is the best way to create real change and measurable impact.

 

*Target is another of the 5T’s. Target focuses on the how, the why and the what of a project and its scope.

On our ExtraordinaryPM Mastery programme, we explore the mobilising power of the Target (‘Big Why’) for your project. With a clear Target in-sight you can align and lead your Tribe more effectively. Your Target is your ‘North Star’ for decision-making and prioritisation and will guide you across the Terrain of your project.

 

For more information, please contact info@extraordinarypm.com

How to build a great network from scratch

Top tips on making and keeping the right connections that will help your project fly

By Marion Thomas and Sarah Walton

Networks are built on the basis of mutual benefit, connection and trust. They are not just a collection of people that you know in an organisation. In order to build an effective network, you need to show up in your own personal authentic leadership style, because people can sense authenticity and are naturally wary of anything that feels contrived.

We all know that relationships are essential in delivering projects, but what do you do when you are starting a new project role in an unfamiliar organisation where you know no-one? Where do you start, particularly when Covid-19 restricts who you can meet face to face? Having a supportive Tribe* of people around you makes you a more effective project manager and your projects more successful.

Networks take time to build and there are additional considerations during this period of on-line meetings with limited opportunity to bump into people to build your connections informally, as might happen when you are in the office or on site. Here are five things though that you can do to help fast-track the process:

1. Remember, the first few weeks in a new organisation are a gift.

Nobody expects you to start being productive immediately, you are allowed to ask any question you want. You bring value as you are seeing the organisation and the project with a fresh pair of eyes. More likely than not, the questions you are asking are insightful and will certainly not be considered stupid. Use this time wisely to learn about the organisation, to find out how it works, and who the key players are, that can both help and shape your project.

2. Start to develop some useful relationships.

Be warm and friendly to everyone you interact with. When working at a distance, the opportunity to greet others with a smile and a cheery “Good morning” as you would have done on arrival at the office is a little trickier. Think about how to help others connect with you quickly. How would you introduce yourself? What is important for others to know about you? Who are you at work, what are your skills, what do you love doing, what is important to you outside work?

3. Ask for help to navigate your way around the organisation.

Check out the information provided on the intranet, find the organisation charts, ask for a mentor, and when you find people keen to help, find out who supports them to help widen your connections further. Don’t forget to engage with the PA’s, IT Helpdesk and other people critical to the project you are working on. The important thing here is to make them feel valued; they are often the people who hold the keys to getting things done in the organisation. Checking that they are the right person to ask and that now is a convenient time are easy ways to make sure you get your relationship off on the right foot. If they are not the right person to help you, ask them if they know who can and treat this as an opportunity to make another useful contact.

4. Listen carefully to the people you connect with.

In those early days, every conversation contains a wealth of useful information and every interaction is an opportunity to learn something. It is very easy to feel the need to demonstrate your experience as soon as you join an organisation, but the real value you can add is to make sure you understand the organisation before you move to action. That way, you check which bits of your experience are going to apply and work well in this new environment.

5. Use the resources that are available to you.

Read all the project documentation you can get hold of and pay attention to the names of key players on things like the risk and action logs. Arm yourself with as much information as you can find, so that you can ask questions and get clarification rather than giving the impression you expect to be spoon-fed information.

How to work your network

Networks are built on the basis of mutual benefit, connection and trust. They are not just a collection of people that you know in an organisation. Your network is a group of people that will always take your calls, answer your e-mails, have time to listen to you and be willing and able to give their time to help you when you ask. In the early stage of building your network, ensure interactions others have with you are pleasant. Demonstrate that you are sensitive to the fact other people are busy, and that you are grateful for their precious time.

Given this definition of a network, two things are important:

Keep focused

Keep focused on who you need in your network right now. If you spread your net too widely, you will just end up exhausting yourself. The most effective way to build a network is to piggy-back on someone else’s. Once you have the first person in your network you start to have access to their network, which means your network can grow more quickly.

There is a great video on You-Tube called ‘Leadership lessons from dancing guy’, which shows the impact of the multiplier effect once you have established that you are worth following.

Make yourself useful

Find ways to be helpful to people. This is not about doing random things or trying to create opportunities for interaction; instead, it is about listening carefully so that you can spot requests for help or opportunities where you could help solve an issue.

If all this sounds a bit calculated ….. it is!

Building your tribe

To be effective in any organisation, you need a Tribe* of people who are willing to help when you ask. Therefore, one of the skills that is critical to your success as a project professional is the ability to build relationships with both your immediate project team and within the wider organisation.

There is no single recipe for building a great network, but the simple mantra of ‘Be yourself, be consistent, and be kind’ is an excellent place to start. Then it is just a case of learning what tools and techniques work best for you.

One final thought – you don’t have to like all the people in your network but you do have to respect them.

In the meantime, here are some practical tips for making yourself helpful and accessible when you can’t meet face to face: 10 ways to be helpful and accessible in a virtual world;

  1. Make sure you have a good photo of you on your e-mail account and whatever meeting platform your organisation uses.
  2. Turn your camera on in meetings. If this is not possible in large meetings because of bandwidth issues, at least do it in smaller meetings. If you do it other people will follow.
  3. Always respond to requests for help quickly, even if the response is only to let the person know that you do not know the answer or that you cannot look at their request straight away.
  4. Make sure all your e-mail communications are clear. Only address e-mails to the people who need to do something, and cc other people who need to be aware. Be clear what action is required and who you are asking to do it, and if an e-mail is for information only say so at the top.
  5. Create your own personal project culture by being the change that you want to see. If the organisation has a good culture, people will want to be part of it and will start to seek you out.
  6. Engage with the whole person you are connecting with, not just their role. Be curious and interested in more than just the work you share.
  7. Recognise and celebrate people for the things that they bring to the mix. Look for people’s strengths and the value they bring. Spot the additional roles some people adopt on project teams, e.g., the toxic handler, the gossip, the social organiser.
  8. Remember the Johari matrix – not everyone sees things from the same perspective. Even if you can’t see the issue from the other person’s viewpoint, understanding that they have a different one will help you value their input. The more willing you are to be open and authentic, the more likely you are to encourage others to be the same with you. That will help you to build stronger connections.
  9. Do not be offended if someone you thought was in your network fails to deliver when you ask for help or does not support you in a meeting. There can be a whole host of reasons for their behaviour, most of which probably have nothing to do with you or your relationship.
  10. Be helpful, professional, authentic, and trustworthy. But, most of all, be yourself.

We hope you find these suggestions useful. Do let us know how you get on if you put any into practice and If you have any other tips or tried and tested alternatives on how to maximise your networks, especially in the very different world we are all currently living and working in, we would to hear about them!

 

*Tribe is one of the 5T’s of the ExtraordinaryPM Framework. Your Tribe is much wider than your team. It is those people you need to build connections with around a shared goal, the Target (another of the 5T’s), in order to get the best from the people around you – whether they’re taking action, controlling risks or delivering a physical product.

As part of the ExtraordinaryPM journey, we show you how to lead and influence, inspiring your colleagues, peers and stakeholders to step up and become more effective and engaged. Because building better collaboration is the best way to create real change and measurable impact.

 

For more information, please contact info@extraordinarypm.com