Managers and project managers spend as much as 70 percent of their time in meetings. Nearly all managers complain that they spend more time in meetings than they should and that, for the most part, meetings are a waste of time. If no one likes to go to meetings and everyone feels that they are a waste of time, why do we have so many meetings?
The reason that meetings are held is based on the concept that two heads are better than one, three heads are better than two, and so on. Continuing to add people to a meeting improves the chances that something can be accomplished in the meeting. The problem is that as the number of people attending a meeting increases, the effectiveness of the meeting increases at a diminishing rate. The cost of additional people in a meeting continues to increase in a linear fashion, and very soon the benefit of additional people at a meeting is less than the cost of having them there.
As can be seen in Figure 5-9, as the number of persons who attend a meeting increases, the effectiveness of the meeting continues to increase, but the amount of increase for each additional person is less as more people attend the meeting. The rationale for this is simple. Each additional person comes to the meeting with additional knowledge and experience. There is an ever-increasing probability that the knowledge and new ideas that this additional person brings to the meeting will already be present in someone else. In addition, as the size of the meeting increases, the interest of some of the participants may be less than desired. These less interested people may decide to have their own discussion while the meeting is going on and be effectively lost to the meeting taking place around them for periods of time. With larger meetings, people who simply do not participate may not even be noticed.
Of course, the cost of having these people present increases in a linear fashion. In Figure 5-9 it can also be seen that the cost begins to exceed the benefits of the meeting at around ten people. For most meetings, ten people are optimum. In this size group it is likely that everyone will participate in the meeting, and there will be no side discussions taking place.
There are several reasons to hold a meeting. Meetings can be held for the purpose of giving out information. These types of meetings can violate the ten-person guideline.
Figure 5-9. Meeting size: Effectiveness versus cost.
Figure 5-9. Meeting size: Effectiveness versus cost.
This is the type of meeting where a large group of individuals is told about a new company policy or when some sort of announcement is made. Since there is little participation in this kind of meeting, the group can be quite large. In fact, by using various kinds of media such as closed circuit television, very large groups can be reached.
Most of the meetings that a project manager will have to manage are going to be discussion, idea-generation, and problem-solving types of meetings. To solve the major complaints of those attending these meetings—that they are a waste of time and that they happen too often—the project manager must make the meetings effective.
Send out a memo giving notice of the meeting. Notifying people of a meeting by telephone is not the most reliable way to ensure that they will attend. Sending a written message will increase the possibility that they will attend. Most people are busy and are bombarded with meeting notices and telephone calls. Many times meetings are called on short notice at the inconvenience of many of the attendees. This creates a feeling of imposition on the part of attendees and does not make for a good attitude toward the meeting. The participants need to feel that they are a necessary, contributing part of the meeting.
The written notice of the meeting should contain the time and place for the meeting, the subject to be discussed, the tentative agenda, and the list of those invited. In addition, any background information that can be supplied to the participants should be provided.
Attendees should have time to prepare and know who is attending the meeting. They should be specifically informed if they are going to be expected to make any presentation or contribute something special to the meeting.
Beginning the Meeting
Open the meeting by restating the objectives. It should be clear to all of those attending the meeting what the purpose and goal of the meeting is.
Go over the agenda and ask for additions. This is one of the most important aspects of making a meeting effective. One of the problems with meetings occurs when during the meeting one of the participants is inspired to change the subject. Before anyone can stop it, the meeting has headed off in a new direction and is no longer going in the direction of its stated goals. The problem with this is not that the discussion is not useful and that the new discussion is not beneficial. The problem is that the purpose of the meeting is now sidetracked and that some of the people in the meeting are not necessary for the discussion now taking place.
The use of an agenda avoids this problem. When a new and nonrelevant discussion begins, the leader of the meeting can use the agenda to bring things back on track. It is therefore important for the leader of the meeting to ask for additions or corrections to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. Any additions or corrections made at this time are likely to help achieve the goal of the meeting. Later, when spontaneous discussion ensues, the agenda can be used to guide it back to the purpose of the meeting.
Have someone record all action items assigned and any conclusions reached. The results of the meeting need to be recorded, or they will depend on the individual memories of the participants. In particular, the agreed-upon action items by the participants must be recorded to ensure that they actually take place.
The use of recording devices and video cameras generally has a negative effect on the discussions that take place in meetings. Transcribing tape recordings of meetings is generally time consuming and less effective than good note taking.
Distribute the minutes within one day. Each meeting should be followed up by the distribution of the minutes of the meeting. Like the meeting notes, the information and the results of the meeting must be distributed to the attendees and other interested parties. This written record also ensures that everyone's recollections of the meeting are going to be the same.
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What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.