To Meet or Not to Meet...That is the Question
Becky Tornes, Former Senior Project Manager
Nobody likes having too many meetings, especially when they aren't valuable. As DPMs, we can do better.
One of the most frequent dilemmas I experience as a Digital Project Manager (DPM) is whether something warrants having a meeting...and if it does, who do I invite?
Nobody likes having too many meetings, especially if they aren't valuable, but we also don't want to have epic Slack or Basecamp threads on one topic that could have been easily resolved with a quick meeting. That balancing act is tricky, but it's important. When you find the right balance and schedule meetings for your team only when needed, you will likely see a couple of benefits. First, there will be a higher level of engagement within the meetings, and second, the team may experience a positive morale boost given they are able to better focus on their work.
Here are four things I consider when deciding whether to schedule a meeting or not and four things I consider when determining who to invite.
Should we have a meeting?
Who will this meeting be valuable for? And how valuable will it be?
When it comes to ad hoc meetings, it can be tempting to schedule them to gain clarity for yourself or a single team member. Before gathering everyone for a "quick check-in," consider the true purpose of the meeting. As an example, if I'm watching a conversation in Slack and I'm confused but the team members involved in the discussion all appear to be on the same page, I should probably wait to schedule a meeting. In this case, I would make a note to clarify decisions/action items/next steps once the discussion is done. If you think critically, you can usually determine if a meeting is convenient for just one or two people, or if it would be helpful for all that would need to attend.
Is it an important client meeting / do we need client "face time"?
Not every meeting that every person attends is going to be clearly valuable for them. There are instances where it's important we meet as a team, even if everyone won't have an active part in the meeting. For example, there may be times when the client is concerned or panicking and we need to include team members on a meeting to help put them at ease -- even if as a PM you could just as easily clear up whatever is going on. Sometimes, we just need to meet (especially with clients) and team members should be open to that assuming it does not happen all the time.
If I do have to invite someone to a meeting where they will mostly be an observer, I try to reach out after scheduling the meeting and explain why I need them there.
If I'm considering a recurring meeting, can we start with another tactic or fewer meetings first?
Daily stand-ups at Viget are not the standard, as some team members (including the Project Managers) may be on several projects at once. If every project had daily standups, that could result in an hour or more of meetings every morning for some team members, which may not be sustainable. As a result, our "standups" typically consist YTBs (posting what you did Yesterday, Today, and any Blockers) in Slack.
When thinking about scheduling recurring meetings (daily, twice a week, weekly, etc.) first see if there is another way to accomplish what's needed in that meeting that would require less time. Can we utilize Slack or start with fewer meetings first? If those don't work, can we try meeting a couple times a week before moving to daily standups? Pulling back on the number of meetings (especially when teams or clients are used to it) can be a lot harder than adding meetings.
What does the team think?
Getting team buy-in on the presence or absence of a meeting is one of the best things you can do. If you aren't sure if a meeting is necessary, ask for the team’s input. More often than not, when I ask, teams request I set the meeting up. Knowing everyone is on the same page can help get a meeting off to the right start and keep it efficient and valuable. Again, it's awesome to head into a meeting with a shared understanding of why it's important and why it will be valuable. When in doubt, just ask.
Who should attend the meeting?
Okay, so you've thought through and determined a meeting is necessary … now, who all needs to be there?
Who will realistically be an active participant?
Sometimes a team member can get value out of a meeting by being a silent participant, but in most cases if they'd never have something to say, they aren't going to gain much from joining. If you can't really think of how someone might contribute to a meeting and you just want them to "feel included" it's probably best to leave them off the invite.
Will solid notes be enough for non-active participants?
So, I just mentioned that simply wanting someone to "feel included" is not a good reason to take up their time with a meeting. However, what if they wouldn't likely be an active participant but what's being discussed is important for them to know? The big question to ask here is if you know your notes would give them the information they need from that meeting. Sometimes conversations are too intricate and notes can't really convey all the necessary information, but that should be a pretty rare situation. Take good notes and give some time back to team members who aren't required at the meeting.
What is the likelihood of the discussion veering off of the agenda?
There are plenty of times that I have an agenda set for a meeting that points to a particular team member not being necessary, but I know the client has a habit of talking about whatever is on their mind. If you believe there's a good chance a client or team member is going to take the meeting in a new direction, it may make sense to invite more folks to the meeting.
What does each team member think?
Once again, if you aren't sure, the best thing you can do is ask the team member. Tell them what the meeting is about and why you think they may (or may not) want to attend. If they have all the information, they can make a decision based on their schedule that day and what they have going on. They will appreciate being able to make their own call, and if they do attend, you will know they are interested and engaged.
When scheduling meetings, remember to think critically, err on the side of not forcing folks to take part in a meeting they don't need to attend, and definitely don't be afraid to ask folks directly if they think it'll be a valuable use of their time. I think you'll find including only those team members that need to be in a meeting will result in better, more interactive meetings as well as happier teammates.
Are there any considerations I missed? I've love to hear them in the comments!