By Mark Hodson

One of the biggest productivity thieves is poorly planned and scheduled meetings. You’ve probably the tell-tale signs before:

An explosion of ill-defined, ad hoc meetings begin to appear on people’s calendars almost out of the blue.

The organizer invites both people he or she assumes must be there as well as those “subject matter experts” who get invited just in case a certain topic comes up.

This dart board approach to planning meetings not only leads to serious calendar overload for the participants, but more importantly, it results in decreased team member productivity because of all the time spent in meetings. Good project managers prevent meeting overload and make sure that at all points in the project, everyone involved gets the right information at the right time.

If you want to plan and schedule more effective and productive meeting, follow these steps:

Step #1: Start with a Communication Plan

Begin by identifying the key people/groups who should be in the team’s communication network You’ll want to consider whom in the network needs to receive information from their team on a regular basis, what type of information is needed, and how often and in what format do they need to receive it.

A well-thought out Communication Plan will ensure two important things:

  1. The right information flows to the right people at the right time.
  2. Meetings are thoughtfully planned and sequenced, with a clear rationale.

Many times, when the meetings are set up properly, the problem of getting the right information to the right people at the right time (point #1) is solved naturally.

Step #2: Schedule meetings in the right order

If the results of meeting A impact the decisions made in meeting B, then meeting A should logically take place before meeting B. Otherwise, valuable time can be lost.

On one project I assisted with, the leadership team scheduled their weekly meetings on Tuesdays, mainly to accommodate the personal preferences of one very vocal member. The design team, whose updates fed into the leadership team meeting, met on Wednesdays to accommodate the schedules of their remote members. As a result, the leadership team frequently found themselves operating with one- or two-week-old information, because the design team was 6 days prior. When the Leadership team discovered that they had spent an entire two-hour meeting making decisions about a design option that was no longer available, they finally realized that it was more logical for them to meet right after the Structural Design Team meeting.

Step #3: Ensure appropriate resources attend

Productivity can also suffer when the right people and information to accomplish the intended objectives aren’t present at the meeting. For example, if a key decision-maker is not able to attend, invariably a second meeting will need to be scheduled in order to accomplish the meeting’s objectives.

Step #4: Set Ground Rules

The efficient execution of a meeting depends on this list of ground rules that outlines how the meeting will run.

The Effective Project Meeting Checklist:

Before the meeting starts:

  • Publish agendas (with Objectives and Outcomes) for all meetings and send pre-reads and data out in advance.
    • Stand-alone meeting: Publish agenda when meeting is scheduled
    • Standing Meetings: Publish agenda at least 48 hrs in advance and modify as needed

When the meeting begins:

  • Define participant roles, including who will convene the meeting, take minutes, keep time, etc.
  • Start on-time.
  • Laptops and phones on “off” or on vibrate/silent

During the meeting:

  • Keep the discussion focused
  • Listen and learn from others
  • Respect other participants’ views – healthy disagreement is constructive when done with respect
  • Make decisions by consensus whenever possible
  • Take regular breaks for meetings longer than one hour

After the meeting:

  • Send meeting minutes to all participants within 48 hours after meeting
  • Assign follow-up actions only to those in the room
  • Evaluate each meeting – What went well? What needs to be improved next time?
  • Get participant agreement to extend beyond published timeframe.

These best practices, such as sending out data ahead of time, starting and finishing meetings on time, and following up with meeting results, all contribute to maximizing everyone’s time spent in meetings. One of the most important of these is publishing an agenda ahead of time. This is an essential ingredient of effective meetings because it ensures deliberate thought goes into defining the purpose and scope of the meeting. It also allows participants to prepare appropriately for what will be discussed.

Want a printable copy of this checklist for your next meeting? Grab a printable checklist by clicking here to download >

Ultimately, meetings are an integral part of the effective communication that is vital to a project’s success. They are essential to getting individuals together to work through issues, get on the same page and make progress. But if they aren’t planned and executed properly, they will almost certainly rob your project of the productivity needed for success.

About the author

Mark Hodson

Mark Hodson Senior VP, (Global Core Clients) Career Experience Prior to joining Tercon Partners, Mark had a thirty-two year career at Eli Lilly and Company holding senior positions in Process Engineering, Human Resources, Performance Improvement (Six Sigma), Capital Program Management and Capital Sourcing Management. In one assignment, he had responsibility for initiating and growing a joint...

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