For years people have ranked “time spent in meetings” as their top workplace complaint. Too often meetings have no stated purpose, the wrong people attend and the same results could have been achieved without meeting. How many times have you attended a meeting that jumps among issues, seems to run forever and dissolves rather than ends—with next-steps unclear?

Good project meetings—whether in person, by phone, or online—need to respect the participants’ time by being relevant, well planned and carefully executed. The costs of a meeting—face-to-face or virtually—may be more than the value of the lost time and opportunities for attending. Not even taking into account the time spent on planning, conducting and following up. 

Before scheduling a project meeting, ask these four questions:

1. What concerns do you have about conducting the meeting? Answers can help you develop an agenda and identify who should attend and run the meeting. Looking at concerns upfront can resolve issues that would threaten meeting success.

2. What concerns need to be addressed in the meeting? Answers reveal the issues to resolve or appraise in the meeting. Record the concerns to track resolution. For example, a meeting may be held about a particular work package or address a concern that threatens the whole project.

3. Given your concerns, what do you hope to accomplish in the meeting? Answers reveal the primary meeting objective—the specific, main goal you want to accomplish in a meeting—as well as secondary objectives. This will focus the meeting and determine how best to conduct it.

4. Given what you hope to accomplish, who should attend? While involvement is critical for gaining participant commitment to your project, there are ways to involve some project participants without their attendance. Copy them on the meeting minutes, ask them to join a portion of the meeting, debrief them personally afterwards, and so on.

By asking and answering these questions, you can create a meeting agenda that will help participants to prepare in advance and then stay on-track during the meeting. Our clients often credit improvements in project work to better project meetings. When attendees realize that meetings will be productive, relevant and won’t drag on interminably, they look forward to attending them and benefit from participation. 

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