By Celine Chua (Prince 2, PMP)
Running effective meeting is more than doing the obvious things like sharing agenda before the meeting, starting on time, and begin the meeting with a purpose. The real key to effective meeting involve well understanding of human behaviour and influencing skill.
Meetings are an essential part of project life cycle, and your ability to run effective project review meeting is a critical part of your success in project management. There are a few important things I recommend project managers keep in the back of their mind.
In Harvard Business Review article, “The Smart Talk Trap”, 1999) by Robert I. Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer, it describes what happens when smart people substitute talking for action:
We found that a particular kind of talk is an especially insidious inhibitor of organizational action: “smart talk.” The elements of smart talk include sounding confident, articulate, and eloquent; having interesting information and ideas; and possessing a good vocabulary. But smart talk tends to have other, less benign components:
In other words, people engage in smart talk to spout criticisms and complexities. Unfortunately, such talk has an uncanny way of stopping action in its tracks. That’s why we call this dynamic the smart-talk trap.
These people substitute sounding smart in the meeting for actually contributing work. They will provide lots of insight and data on the problem by providing details, benchmarks, and examples, in another word smart-talking about the “situation” by simply stating facts and describing what is happening. It’s very important as project manager to spot it when your team is falling into the pattern of accepting smart sounding ideas and inputs instead of measurable forward progress.
Situation discussions don’t go anywhere, not leading to action, simply gather more detail. To break through this type of discussion, say, “Let’s stop talking about the situation and try to define the end result that we want to achieve.”
A very common situation discussions example:
This is very important, but we don’t have enough resources to do it.
Here is the design defects found during testing, we need to raise and work on change requests, but we don’t have enough resources to do it. We need to meet our timeline, but these are critical design defects and we really should fix it as soon as possible, but we don’t have the budget to get the extra resources……..(on and on)
As project manager, turn the discussion into outcome discussion to get things move forward:
Ok, we all understand the situation. Let’s talk about some concrete things we can do on a smaller scale that would make a positive difference.
Focus on outcome proposals such as:
Sometimes you need to challenge the small talk:
What outcome do you suggest we do to solve that particular point?
Outcome discussions are productive even though it can be long and painful, it leads to action.