These days there are lots of differing sentiments around the subject of meetings. Some say they’re critical to effective teams and successful engineering projects. Others say meetings are a waste of time. What’s your opinion?
In my opinion, like everything else in life, the effectiveness of meetings is related to what you put into them.
I remember when I was a young civil engineer learning how to use stormwater modeling software, my manager would tell me, “No matter how good the program is, garbage in equals garbage out.”
It’s the same with meetings.
The way you plan, run, and follow up on meetings will determine whether or not they are effective.
Here are some tips I can offer both from my experience as a civil engineer and through my experience as president of the Engineering Management Institute, and how we’re currently running our team meetings.
• In preparing for your team meetings, create documents, like agendas or weekly reports, that will serve to keep the meetings on target.
• Distribute the documents prior to the meetings (not immediately prior but at least one day before).
• Ask attendees to review the documents before the meeting and be prepared to discuss.
• At EMI, I meet with each of our team members one-on-one on Mondays and then we all meet as a group on Thursdays. Each staff member has an individual document that lists their goals for the week ahead, and also for all past weeks. Before we talk, they update it for the previous week, and we review and update the upcoming week together on the call.
Conducting the Meeting
• Keep your meetings short and to the point. I recommend no more than seven to 10 minutes per person in the meeting, and I recommend no more than five people in one meeting.
• One person should lead the meeting and move through the agenda, giving each person in the meeting the opportunity to speak on their items. In fact, each person should be required to provide a verbal report. This brings in accountability (plus helps with confidence building), and ensures that each person will come to the meeting prepared.
• One person should be designated to take notes, specifically, to note the action items to be taken after the meeting and the person who will be responsible for each item. Without this step, most of what was discussed in the meetings won’t be transferred back to the job and won’t be acted upon.
• IMPORTANT: When outlining the action items, if something is significant, and will take weeks to complete, develop key performance indicators for those items. KPIs will allow the team leader to see the progress of these tasks each meeting and identify when items are behind schedule or over budget.
• Include time at the end of the meeting agenda for open discussion that may elicit new ideas, questions, or concerns. It is often in these times that the greatest ideas emerge, or an employee’s biggest concerns are alleviated, avoiding future problems.
• The meeting leader should follow up with all attendees within 24 hours, summarizing the action items and those responsible for completing them.
• The follow-up correspondence should include encouragement to staff to ask questions or propose revisions to the summary as they see fit.
• As mentioned earlier, at EMI, we hold individual meetings between managers and team leaders once a week, for 20 minutes each, and one group meeting. This process is effective when a manager is overseeing five individuals or fewer.
Again, these recommendations are based on my experience and have helped EMI to run very successful meetings; however, I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment below with any helpful tips you feel to share on running effective meetings.
Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Management Institute (previously known as the Engineering Career Coach), which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and he is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills here.
Anthony has also recently started the Engineering Management Accelerator to help engineers become more effective managers: www.EngineerToManager.com.