How To Manage Difficult Meetings

managing difficult project meetings

Project collaboration meetings are a key ingredient to the success of any project. This is the opportunity you have to get everyone together that has a say on the project. It could be in the early planning stages of a project, or resolving an issue that has presented itself, to closing a project out. Regardless of the time period, project collaboration meetings are just good form when it comes to successfully managing a project.

But what do you do when good project collaboration meetings go bad? We’ll discuss some of the circumstances that could arise in these meetings and what you can do as a project manager to get everyone back to collaborating.

The Demographics of a Project Collaboration Meeting

Let’s talk about what a project collaboration meeting looks like first. Typically, you will be running this meeting as the project manager. That means that you need to have done your homework up-front and assembled the necessary collateral to have a productive meeting. You need to have a clear understanding of the topic that is being discussed as well as the goal of the meeting in mind. This is important, otherwise, you may find yourself at the end of the meeting not even touching upon the very purpose that the meeting was put together.

Project meeting

An agenda is a must, especially if there are a number of people involved in the meeting. This should list the topic being covered, who will be presenting it and how long they will have to present their information. It is good to schedule some extra time into the meeting to compensate for someone who may be a bit long-winded or a particularly thorny issue is raised.

It is still your job as a project manager to keep everyone on track and ask the long-winded presenters to use a little less wind, but many times conversation will come up that is relevant and important and needs to be covered at that time. The point is, don’t jam 2-hours of material into 2-hours of time. Rather, put 1 hour and 45 minutes into 2 hours of time. The worst thing that can happen is you end the project collaboration meeting 15 minutes early. Nobody has ever complained about getting 15 minutes of their life back!

Additionally, prepping everybody prior to the meeting helps ensure that everyone knows what the meeting is about, the desired outcome, and what their part is in making the meeting a success.

When Good Project Collaboration Meetings Go Bad

You’ve done all your homework. The presentations are ready to go. The attendees have been prepped. You feel good about this collaborative project management meeting. What could possibly go wrong? Below is a list of four things that could go wrong and some measure you can take to make them right:

1. Battleship

You remember the game Battleship, right? B9. Miss. B10. Hit! You sank my battleship! It’s the game where two opponents sit across from each other with their game boards opened up so the other can’t see where they have placed their boats.

This “game” has come into many project collaboration meetings. Take a look at the next meeting you attend. Eight or nine people come in with their laptops and sit across from each other at the table. They then open their laptop screens and start working. It looks like one gigantic game of Battleship. Sure, sounds like fun. But, the problem is that people are not actively engaging in the meeting at hand.

Oh, they’ll pretend to be engaged and they get pretty good at it too. They’ll intermittently hit the scroll bar on their browser to uncover more of the web page they are reading. Or, they will oh-so-delicately double click an email they just received. Then the gentle pitter patter of little fingers running across the keyboard with an economy of words to keep their message brief. Couple this with periodic “uh-huh’s”, “good point’s” and “I never thought about it that way” and you have the recipe for a highly unproductive project collaboration meeting.

To the untrained eye it may appear that they are spending just a fraction of their time and attention to conscientiously keep up with their work. They may even throw in “I’m working on a client issue”.  But you know better. They are focused 80% on their laptop and 20% meeting. Stop the madness. Check the laptops at the door and make sure everyone is 100% engaged.

2. The Digital Prayer

Here’s a variation on the Battleship meeting. You can see the Digital Prayer whenever you walk in the halls of any office building. People are mindlessly walking with their heads bowed toward their iPhone, BlackBerry, or whichever digital god they have chosen to idolize. Now, take these same people and put them at the table at your meeting. No, these people are not nodding off; they are just bowing their heads to discreetly pay homage to their phone.

They are praying for productivity, efficiency, and connectivity. Ironically, the very thing that this project collaboration meeting is designed to cultivate and they are missing out on what is happening right around them.

First, don’t do it yourself. It’s rude. Next, ask those in attendance to not do it either. It’s rude. There is nothing worse than presenting in front of a dozen people who are all working on other things and snickering and giggling along the way. You can “go dark” for an hour or so and the world won’t stop.

3. You’re Out!

This occurs when you have an agenda prepared and somebody comes in and takes it down an entirely different path. The meeting gets way off base and you run out of time, run out of interest, and run out of patience. They may be legitimate points that are brought up, but that’s not the purpose of this particular project collaboration meeting.

This is where the proverbial “parking lot” comes into play. Acknowledge the fact that the person brings up a good point but it is something that will need to be discussed later. Capture it in the notes, put it on the whiteboard, or whatever mechanism you use to keep with these topics.

One caveat…make sure the person gets their car out of the parking lot. There are some project managers that will use this approach as a condescending way to get that person to stop talking. Don’t do that. People need to feel as if you are really going to follow up with them about that afterward or set up another meeting to discuss their topic. Otherwise, they’ll keep on hijacking the current meeting.

4. Ka-Boom!

Despite your best of efforts in vetting out who will bring up what at this meeting, there are people that take great delight in throwing a hand grenade and then running.  “I don’t even know why we are talking about this issue because the projects not even going to happen”, they say. “What??” you ask. This is the first time you’ve even heard about this. Certainly you would know as the project manager, but this person is insistent that it was just cancelled.

Sometimes the best course of action is to pause, find the facts and then reconvene.

Project collaboration meetings are a key component of any successful project. If you prepare to the best of your ability and keep everyone on the same page by managing the above circumstances, you’ll find that you can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

Looking to continue project collaboration after the meeting you just held? Make sure everyone has the right information at the right time, message your peers to keep everyone informed, and hold real-time virtual discussions to resolve issues!

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