Quick Tip No 18: Think Twice Before You Call in a Big Meeting

meeting-rulesObviously, when you are working with larger teams you’ll have to have big meetings. Right? Err…Why? No question, you and everyone else in the team needs to know what is going on. You need to know where in the process/project you are and whether there are problems to solve or course corrections to be made. However, I think there are better, less time consuming ways than meetings, to keep everyone in the loop.

I am a fan of small meetings with one or at maximum two other people involved. So, before you call in a big meeting think about the reason(s) for doing so.

You realized something is wrong in your process/project. Meetings in such situations can easily turn into finger pointing and useless discussions about the reasons and will rarely result in a productive exchange of solutions. Write instead a brief email describing the situation and ask for brief one-on-one meetings. This way you get equal input from everyone and very likely the most amount of solutions.

Idea Creation (”Brainstorming sessions”)
These are different from troubleshooting sessions because nothing is broken. You have a problem and want to have a meeting where everyone comes up with ideas. Brainstorming meetings are a special case, because the basic rules are that every, yes every(!) single idea is written down, there are no questions, no criticism or discussion. Which sounds great in theory because you may think more heads will produce more ideas, but that is not true when all these heads are sitting together. There is quite some scientific evidence that people will create more and better ideas if they work on their own. More about that in a future problem solving lesson (don’t forget to subscribe to not miss it). So again instead of a big meeting, ask everyone to come up with 10 ideas, make clear that there are no stupid or wrong ideas, and meet them separately. You could then put all these ideas together without mentioning names, email the list to everyone, and ask for a democratic vote on the best ones. Of course only if you want to make the decision a team effort.

Socializing, Team-building
Short answer: Have lunch or other activities together instead and cut out the work talk.

Making Decisions
How would such a meeting with let’s say 10 members look? Someone explains the situation and the options and then everybody raises their hands to vote for the different options? Well, you would want to know their reasons first. So that means you would go one by one and ask 10 different people for their opinion? That can easily lead to heated discussions or if not it is likely that not everybody is honest about their reasons. They typical “I agree with what John said” might simply follow.
Again, the best solution is to meet with everyone one-on-one and get everyone’s opinion. If you manage to keep these meetings focused on the issue, you’ll spend less time overall and get a better decision than in a big meeting, because you cut out the risk of unnecessary discussion. You can then have one big follow-up meeting with everyone in which you briefly explain the decision and the further path of action.

Status Updates
If you use a project management software that allows regular status updates (Asana is great for my purposes) then everyone can see with a glance what is going on. If someone has a problem he/she can post it and qualified team members can then respond with ideas. Why wasting everybody’s time? You can also use email for such updates if everyone agrees on using effective subject lines. If, however, you are using project management software, make sure to keep all communication inside this software or you’ll render it useless.
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