Tag Archives: Meeting Management

Are you a workshop leader or facilitator?

workshopWorkshops are a routine feature in many projects. They are typically used either to find a solution to a problem or to develop and integrate knowledge needed for the work (eg, requirements gathering and prioritisation).

Effective project managers know that every workshop is a meeting and many of the rules for running effective meetings need to be applied including:

They also know that unlike normal meetings workshops are a creative process that needs the active contribution of the attendees to craft the best answer to the problem or question being posed…..  This means time is needed to ‘break the ice’ so that the people in the workshop feel comfortable working together and the facilitator needs to act as a host welcoming and engaging people as they arrive.

The job of the facilitator is to ensure the workshop ‘works’ and produces the required outcomes. The facilitator (or workshop leader) only needs sufficient knowledge of the subject under discussion to allow them to ask pertinent questions and summarise discussion – the core skills of facilitation lay in ensuring everyone is engaged and participates, all points of view are heard, the group works towards a consensus or conclusion efficiently and the outputs are agreed.  For more on facilitation see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1067_Facilitation.pdf

Facilitation is a very useful skill for a project manager to acquire and use, however, to organise and run a successful workshop there are a two key questions that need to be asked very early in the planning stage – unfortunately both of these are frequently overlooked!

Question 1 – Will I be a key contributor to the process of developing the workshop’s output? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ the project manager should consider engaging someone else to act as the facilitator for the workshop.  The role of the facilitator is to make sure everyone contributes, all of the ideas are brought into discussion and the best solution is reached; it is nearly impossible to do this if you are also contributing significant input to the discussion.

Question 2 – Do I want to lead the workshop towards a predetermined conclusion or do I want the workshop to have free reign to explore and develop its own solutions?  While a degree of flexibility is needed in both situations, if the workshop is focused on getting buy-in to a concept that is already in mind (quite common in problem solving mode) the approach to managing the workshop will be quite different to an open discussion looking at all of the options.

Based on your answers to these questions there are four quite different types of workshop that require different approaches to deliver successful outcomes:

workshops

The best way to approach the planning and running each of these workshop types varies significantly.

You facilitate. In situations where you have no particular input to contribute and no predetermined outcome in mind (beyond the fact you need an outcome) facilitating the work of the group participating in the workshop can be a good way to build credibility and enhance your leadership position. Provided you are comfortable in the role, facilitating the workshop to achieve a useful outcome is a valid role for the project manager.  If you are not comfortable in the role, there is nothing wrong with using an experienced facilitator, your objective is simply to get a useful outcome from the process (for example a prioritised list of requirements).

Others facilitate. Where you are going to be a key participant in the workshop process and have significant input to contribute as a subject matter expert, but do not want to drive to a predetermined conclusion, the use of a neutral facilitator is essential.  The job of the facilitator is to ensure all of the viewpoints in the room are heard and the outcomes from the workshop incorporate the views of the participants, either based on a consensus or by applying an impartial selection / decision making process. It is virtually impossible to simultaneously be a participating expert and an impartial facilitator.

Briefing sessions. Have a very different focus, the purpose of the workshop is to explore and understand a predetermined proposition.  The role of the facilitator shifts towards making sure everyone’s questions are heard and answered, and there is a full understanding of the proposition being put. The outcome from the workshop is focused on creating understanding and buy-in from the participants rather than crafting a free-form solution – depending on the nature of the proposition being discussed, there may, or may not, be opportunities to adjust or fine-tune the concepts. However, provided someone else is the primary source of the concepts being discussed, the project manager can usefully take the role of facilitator.

Sales sessions. Have a similar focus to briefing sessions but the concept being ‘sold’ is primarily ‘owned’ by the project manager.  In this situation if you want genuine buy-in from the workshop participants it is essential that the workshop is facilitated by someone else!  The facilitator’s job is to make sure everyone is heard and to help lead the group towards a common understanding and consensus. Your job is to answer the questions and ‘sell’ the proposition (and where appropriate adapt your proposition based on the feedback received).

Understanding the objectives of the workshop and the best way for you to participate in delivering a successful outcome lays the foundation for success.  Then the hard work starts……..

Meeting Management

meetings#1One of our more downloaded White Papers is WP1075 Managing Meetings.  If your job involves arranging meetings then you need to get both your strategy and your tactics right to create a short, effective, useful and enjoyable experience for everyone!

Strategy focuses on the vision and purpose your meeting should:

Be planned to achieve an outcome
To get the most out of your meetings, you need to plan them wisely. Prior to each meeting, write down the specific objectives that you want from the meeting. Then work out how you’re going to achieve them!

Contain a carefully crafted opening and closing
People remember the opening and the closure the most. So open and close your meetings carefully. When you open the meeting, tell them what the purpose of the meeting is, what you want to get out of it and why it’s important. This gets their attention and sets the scene. When you close the meeting, tell them what has been agreed / achieved in the meeting and the next steps going forward.

Be controlled
You need to be in complete control of the meeting at all times, to ensure that:
•  The meeting follows the agenda
•  You never get stuck on a single issue
•  One person doesn’t dominate it
•  Everyone has their say
Start by standing or sitting in a prominent place in the room. Raise your voice a little to add presence. Jump in frequently when people talk too long. Be polite but strong. Control the meeting as a coach would control a football team – by constantly watching, listening and directing the team. If possible, ask someone else to record the minutes. This gives you the time needed to control the meeting so that the agenda and your goals are met.

Be focused, don’t be afraid to ‘park issues and move on’
Issues and disputes can consume the majority of the meeting time. Provided the issue is not related to your specific meeting goals, then tell the team to ‘park it and move on’. Record the issue on a whiteboard or paper and address it with the relevant team members separately after the meeting. This keeps your meetings short and focused.

Be kept ‘action orientated’
Make sure that where possible, every discussion results in an action to be completed and the ‘action item’ should be assigned to a responsible owner for completing.

meetings2

To achieve this strategy, use the following tactics:

  1. Send out a meeting agenda in advance with any anticipated items that you may need specific attendees to address highlighted to that person. This way people can come prepared to provide meaningful contributions.
  2. Start and finish the meeting on time. Your attendance and participation level will be better if people know you have a reputation for getting right to business on time and that your meetings don’t run on forever. Start it on time, be productive and then end it.
  3. Don’t repeat everything for late-comers. If you have to update someone on a key point that has already been discussed in their absence, do so quickly. And if they missed their time to discuss their specific tasks, move them to the end of the line–get back to them after you’ve gone through the rest of the team. If you have a reputation for being on time with your meetings you won’t have too many problems with people arriving or calling in late.
  4. Release everyone as soon as business has been conducted. When the meeting is over, close it out with a brief verbal summary of action items and let everyone know the action list will be circulated within a few minutes. And then end the meeting.
  5. Cancel a meeting if you believe there’s nothing new to discuss. If you’ve set up a meeting but there’s nothing new to discuss or key contributors cannot attend, then cancel it or re-schedule it. On the flip side, be careful not to do this too often. Otherwise people will come to expect your scheduled meetings to not happen and they will either come unprepared or not come at all.
  6. Focus the meeting on the agenda. Try to recognise when the side discussions start to get out of hand and ask those individuals to call a separate meeting to discuss or ‘park it’.
  7. Publish action items within minutes. Action items are delegated to specific people, but he list is sent to everyone (see more on delegation). Follow up with the minutes containing a status summary of what was discussed, decisions that were made, action items that were assigned, when things are due and when the next meeting will be held within a day. Send it out via e-mail and ask attendees to respond if they see anything incorrect or feel that anything should be added. That way you’ve essential documented that everyone is on the same page.

For more detailed advice on managing your meetings download the White Paper WP1075 Managing Meetings. Applied effectively these ideas can free up a massive amount of time!

Managing meetings

Why do we waste so much time in marginally productive meetings? Part of the answer has to be the way many meetings are managed (or not managed if they are just allowed to happen).

Certainly some meetings are essential and some are even useful but only if they are managed effectively. For the rest, don’t call the meeting if you have control and either don’t attend or delegate attendance to someone else if the meeting is called by someone else.

For the remaining few, our latest White Paper on effective meeting management offers a range of suggestions on ways to make the meeting cost effective and efficient for all of the attendees. Download the White Paper from: www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1075_Meetings.pdf