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Meetings: The Best Project Communication Tool

concepts Jun 07, 2024

I love meetings.

I am being hyperbolic to say they are the best project management communication tool, because the best tool varies by situation, and the fun of being a project manager is your opportunity to decide which tool is best in your situation right now.

But on average, I find meetings to be one of the most powerful communication tools across all project situations. Here’s why it’s a tool I use so much.

They get decisions made efficiently, by the right people.

A major type of action that actually creates project progress is decisions being made by the right people in the right order. And on projects complex enough to need a project manager, some decisions need to be made by multiple people collaboratively—sometimes with the same weight being given to each person’s perspective, but often with different people having different ways they need to contribute to the decision

Meetings are often the best way to get these decisions made. As the project manager, you can frame up the decision that is needed, remind people of their roles (who gets the final say, whose input is important for what reason, etc.), and let them discuss. The better you frame up what is needed, the smoother the discussion tends to go and the more effective the decision tends to be—but it’s the synchronous communication of a meeting that makes this possible.

Meetings can be in-person or virtual, but I find making sure people can see each other’s faces and thus better read each other’s body language is helpful to collaborative decision-making. So I’d recommend using video in a virtual meeting if you can.

They create alignment that will serve the project later.

Often when I opt for a meeting over an email, it’s to create alignment among a team working on a project or solving a problem (such as a project kickoff meeting). There can be some decision-making among some participants in a meeting like this, but there are also parts where information is simply shared, and questions are asked and answered.

I like giving everyone the opportunity to hear the same information in the same way, ask questions, and hear the answers to everyone else’s questions. With an email or another asynchronous communication, you can’t usually confirm how well someone absorbed the information you shared. In a meeting (either in person or virtual with video), you can watch everyone absorb the information, you can ask if they have questions, and you can confirm their attention to and understanding of the message because you can see them. If confirming clear and universal understanding is critical for your communication, meetings will achieve that for you.

They foster a sense of teamwork.

Knowing you’re not working alone, knowing your work is part of something bigger than you, is a motivator for people who work in organizations. Accountability to other project team members also helps create a sense of purpose for individuals.

For people who work in separate cubicles, separate offices, or separate cities, meetings build this shared sense of responsibility and accomplishment that helps people want to keep going. Meetings help team members feel connected to each other and understand how everyone’s work is related. Even people who aren’t particularly enthused about the work they do may be motivated to do it because it meets another team member’s need.

I probably don’t need to tell you this is especially important for distributed teams. As distributed work became more common after COVID-19, there was prolific conversation about how to keep employees engaged and teamwork high. There are many nuanced answers that make sense for individual teams, but I posit the best overall solution is a simple one: make sure the team meets—if not frequently, at least regularly.

But…

Meetings will not, however, always or automatically achieve these things. Here are some caveats to keep in mind.

There are exceptions.

As I said earlier, a meeting is not the right tool for every situation. Some common times you’ll want to pick a different tool to move your project forward are:

  • Simple messages where confirming understanding isn’t really a concern. Then asynchronous communication will save everyone’s time.
  • A team that meets regularly won’t need a meeting for every update if they are already operating in sync.
  • When tensions are running hot, either wait until they cool down to meet, or have smaller meetings with subsets of stakeholders who are less likely to trigger each other. Or send an email to let everyone start to digest the basics on their own—then meet later if needed.

While I love meetings, you can still accomplish a lot with an email if you write the email well.

You need to go in prepared.

Lots of people dislike meetings, but if a meeting feels like a waste of time, it was probably planned poorly. Well-planned meetings are efficient and do not waste people’s time. You need to go into a meeting with a plan, and ideally a written-out plan that you share with attendees in advance. At a very basic level:

  1. Plan to frame up the purpose of the meeting at the beginning.
  2. Know what points the meeting will progress through in a logical order.
  3. Finish the meeting by clarifying decisions and action steps.

I’m working on a post about how to build a great meeting agenda, and I’ll link to it here when it’s ready.

In the meantime, even if you’ve had poor meeting experiences in the past, I hope you can appreciate meetings now and use them effectively on your projects. They'll accomplish so much in the way of decision-making, alignment-building, and fostering a sense of teamwork.

 

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