Meeting Effectiveness: Are you holding the right kind of meeting?

People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.

-Thomas Sowell

Meetings.  Hate them or Tolerate them.
I haven’t met anyone who loves to attend meetings.

Unfortunately, they are a necessary evil in the daily life of a project manager.

For three of the Project Management Processes: Integrated Change Control, Monitor and Control Risks and Plan Risk Management, they are considered a Tool in our PMBOK Toolbox. So for better or worse, we are stuck with them. And so in my maddening quest for self-improvement, I’m always on the lookout for ways to make them better.

Recently, I came across a rather geeky idea that only a project manager would love. In The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-making, Sam Kaner categorizes and defines the 7 types of meetings.

Most people don’t care enough about meetings to categorize and explore the purpose behind so many of our meetings.  But fortunately for the rest of us, Kaner does. He suggests that much of our problems with meetings stem from the fact that we are not clear about the purpose of our meetings and so muddy the water with side conversations and odd tangents.

The ways we wander off track can easily be seen once you understand the 7 types of meetings.  They are:

  1. To Obtain Input
    This type of meeting is scheduled when someone (usually a boss) is seeking feedback or suggestions, but does not need the group to make decisions. Meetings to  solicit input for finalizing a budget or identify project needs fall into this category.
  2. To Build Capacity
    To Build Capacity? What does that mean? According to Kaner, this meeting is scheduled to help team members develop skills. Now in most cases, Project Managers would not be involved in holding meetings like this. The only example in my experience that I can think of was a Training session that allowed Customer Support teams to learn about the features on our release.
  3. To Build Community
    This kind of meeting is usually held to strengthen the bonds of people who work together and boost morale. These are your PMO Christmas parties and post-release celebrations. Most people don’t usually see Community Building as a legitimate meeting goal, but used in this fashion can be effective.
  4. To Improve Communication
    A project manager schedules this kind of meeting to strengthen working relationships by sharing feelings or reducing interpersonal tension. I have seen this done with small groups, but Kaner seems to feel that it can be facilitated in larger groups. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give much advice on how to ensure that people feel safe enough to speak up.

  5. To Share Information
    We are all familiar with this kind of meeting: it is a meeting where we learn about surprise organizational announcements or about what our business accomplished that quarter. To bring it down to where we live, it is our status or stand-up meeting.

  6. To Advance the Thinking
    Project Managers are most familiar with this kind of meeting: this type of meeting is scheduled to make progress on a topic. Every week we run meetings that:
    * Analyze a Problem
    * Identify root causes
    * Rearrange a list of items by Priority
    * Conduct a risk assessment
    * Evaluate options – and so on…

  7. To Make Decisions
    Project Managers are also familiar with this type of meeting: where the group needs to address an issue and bring it to closure. Depending on the type of decision – simple or complex – you might need to break the discussion into parts: the first to advance the thinking around a problem and then a second meeting to make a decision.

Kaner allows room for aspects of each of the meeting types to serve as agenda items in other meetings. The problem with this approach is that you dilute the purpose of the original meeting and increase the risk of getting off-track. My preference is toward shorter meetings – and when you have a distinct purpose for your meeting, you are far more likely to end on time.

Kaner’s meeting categorization seem to cover the range of meetings that we see in an organization. Can you think of another type of meeting that doesn’t fall into these categories? Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Bruce

    People may say you’re being redundant, but they know where the team is headed, right? Many of the most effective PMs I’ve met repeated the plan over and over again so that everyone was on the same page – and if there were disconnections, they were quickly identified.

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