Tick Tock: How to Run a Productive Legal Project Meeting

I am usually the first person to start fidgeting in any meeting. Most of the time, I attribute this to my short attention span or my impatience. But sometimes I attribute  it to the meeting leader’s poor facilitation skills.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my frustration. According to a May 2014 Harvard Business Review article:

  • 15% of collective organizational time is spent in meetings. This percentage has only increased since 2008.
  • Executives consider 56% of these meetings to be unproductive
  • 49% of attendees admit to doing other, unrelated work during meetings

Meeting facilitation skills will become increasingly important as firms focus on efficiency. This is especially true if you’re using project management techniques to organize client work: lean budgets simply don’t allow a lot of room for wasted time.

Before the project meeting

  • Schedule meetings at a pre-set times, dates and locations. Don’t rearrange them just because team members can’t attend. Instead, offer attendance options such as video conferencing or advance reporting.
  • Gather project data, analyze it and assess the impact (if any). Stakeholders will already have agreed on data indicators and metrics.
  • If data is missing or unreported, then use as much information as you have. This will establish expectations of what team members are accountable for.
  • Distribute data analysis to the team in time for them to read it.
  • Ask any questions that you need answered at the meeting
  • Ask team members for additional agenda items

At the meeting

  • Get consensus on the validity of your data analysis
  • Lead a discussion where people:
    • Identify likely risks and their impact
    • Challenge assumptions
    • Raise ideas and connect them to the project objective
    • Identify, share or reallocate resources within the budget
    • Make decisions and agree upon associated responsibilities or deadlines
    • Visualize future work on the project and its impact on their overall workload
  • Avoid reviewing information that wasn’t read before the meeting – it will bore those who arrived prepared and waste time
  • Recognize the effort, progress and creativity among your team
  • Recap the discussion and thank people for their time. No one likes to leave a meeting feeling like they haven’t accomplished anything.
  • Deal with additional agenda items only if they relate to the entire group. Otherwise, deal with them between meetings.
  • Start and end on-time (or, even better, end early)

Between meetings

  • Summarize the discussion and distribute related action items
  • Provide project updates in a shared space, whether it’s part of a robust platform or a document in a file management system
  • Research and validate ideas raised in the meeting, matching them to resources and project scope
  • Schedule one-on-one or small-group conversations as appropriate

What would you add to this list? I’ve deliberately excluded meeting formats from this discussion, but I’ve found that standing meetings and video-conferences both offer efficiencies.

My hope is that as more firms adopt project management skills, they’ll also realize the importance of effective project meeting facilitation. We all spend a lot of time at work and a lot of time in meetings. Why not make those meetings more productive? People will talk about what really matters, they’ll have a better understanding of the project objective and they’ll leave knowing that they made a contribution to a quality outcome.

This post was originally published on the Canadian legal blog, Slaw.ca on June 25, 2014