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Context: I'll admit, I've recently transitioned to a PM role at a new company, and the atmosphere is slightly different than the previous firm I worked at. I was a 'Project Manager' (note the quotations) at my previous role, but it wasnt a position that had enterprise-wide visibility.

In my current role, I've got quite a handful - I like challenges - and I'm loving it.

The problem I'm finding right now is that with some of the projects I'm handling, I find that I'm the only one who's talking in the team meetings. Its not that I'm afraid of speaking up in front of people, but I really really want to foster communication and get the whole group-chatter going.

How do I foster this? I frequently pause and ask for any questions/ feedback, I encourage people to interrupt me or criticize me, and I've got a pretty friendly personality overall.

And yet, I'm just coming off project kick off meeting this morning that barely lasted half an hour. Due to the nature of the project (its a program, really), I couldnt get into risk assessment or planning the schedule, but I'm finding that my meetings frequently last <30 minutes, whereas other PMs can easily stretch it into 60 minutes.

I'm a fan for short, to-the-point meetings, but sometimes I wonder if I'm making the meetings too short to cover everything that could/should be covered.

I'm wondering if its because I'm new to the company and may not know some specific history (pertaining to the project) or of the various groups.

Are there any tips/ tricks you guys use to improve / foster group chatter?

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Most people actually have got the opposite problem (over-running meetings!) :)

Here are some suggestions:

  • Assess the impact of the lack of communications: running long meetings has never been a sign of good (project) management so the fact that your meetings are shorter than other PM's isn't a problem per se. However as you feel this is causing issues, it could be helpful for you to clarify how this is actually impacting your projects. Do you think people withhold information from you? Do you feel that people don't trust you or are intimidated? Are you concerned that you're missing some important things as a PM? Could this lead to project failure?
  • Openly address communications with your team: make communications a topic of discussion and ask people what they expect and need when it comes to project communications, how you as a team could improve in this area, etc. You can do this either as a team exercise or one-on-one if you feel this would work better. This could help you identify why people are not talking.
  • Get people to actively participate in meetings: prepare agendas (with meeting objectives) and ask people to contribute to the discussion by presenting a topic or bringing their questions/issues to the table. If people are not naturally inclined to talk in front of others, beware of putting them on the spot, so give them the opportunity of talk on a volunteer-basis only. Identify the people who would be more at ease to talk; once one starts, this will encourage others to join in. Thank people who contribute.
  • Ensure your meetings are productive: share meeting minutes and follow-up on actions and items in subsequent meetings. This will give continuity to your communications and help people appreciate that things get done thanks to these meetings (so there is something in it for them).
  • Get another perspective: if you can, find a peer (another PM in your organisation) to support you; ask to attend one of their meetings and/or for them to attend one of yours. This will give you a sense of how things go elsewhere by observing others (you may witness some good techniques or different ways to go about running a meeting) as well as getting external feedback. Since you are new to this company there could be a case of organisational culture where people are not accustomed to talk in meetings, so this would be a way to find out.
  • Get people to talk outside of meetings too: if meetings are currently the only forum where you get to talk to those who work on your projects, create other opportunities to chat, such as informal corridor chats, coffee breaks, or morale events like those suggested by Lewis.
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Spend time ahead of the meeting thinking about questions you can ask specific team members. Then think about people you can ask to comment on the responses.

Sally, what are your thoughts on risk ? John, Sally said her biggest concern was . Do you agree? etc.

If the people are shy or just introverted, you'll need to do more than you are accustomed to in order to get them talking.

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A side piece of advice... If you ask the group a question, or really need a response to a statement, and nobody is stepping up... do a slow count to 10 or 15 (inside voice of course. :-) )

It's a fairly common trick I was told by a friend who is a prof. at a local university. Essentially the silence eventually gets to somebody and they "break". Also prevents you from moving on too quickly in case somebody is taking a bit longer in digesting the issue before responding.

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Get people to talk outside of meetings too: if meetings are currently the only forum where you get to talk to those who work on your projects, create other opportunities to chat, such as informal corridor chats, coffee breaks, or morale events like those suggested by Lewis.

This!

I'm all for Angeline's answer. Also, review your previous meetings and try to understand if the team thinks that meetings are beneficial for them.

IMHO, it's generally good that you are aiming to make the meetings short and oriented towards specific goals. One thing to take care about is that, if the meeting is too short, team members may not be able to express their opinions or give suggestions. Key point here is to enable the team to give you feedback. Try asking each team member separately, during the meeting, what is her or his opinion on specific topic.

You wrote:

I frequently pause and ask for any questions/ feedback, I encourage people to interrupt me or criticize me [...]

What is usually the reaction?

Also, try to get to know these people - if you are new to the company, they may naturally keep some of the project related discussions to themselves. Are you aware of their day to day work and responsibilities or not? Do they actually need your input during their daily responsibilities? Or maybe they just want to attend the meetings to get information about any needed changes and strategy, get a confirmation from the project manager that they can continue their work as usual. Your goal would be to show, that you can be helpful for them during the execution of the plan.

I was once on a team, which was assigned new project manager. At the beginning, as long as we were able to get customer's opinion or some infrastructure work done by ourselves, we were not using manager's help with such tasks. The meetings were also kind of boring, cause we spent more time explaining the issues to the manager rather than discussing important things about the project. Try to understand whether it is the case or not.

Also - try discussing some of the topics with one team member, separately after or before the meeting. Ask her or him what should be covered during next meeting - this may give you more feedback about the team's expectations than asking whole group.

Most importantly, don't loose the main idea - the goal for the meeting is not to last 60 minutes; the goal of the meeting is to cover important decisions, resolve current impediments and continue the work productively.

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Here are couple ideas on how you can increase group chatter (aka get groups to share information):

  • Roundtable updates. Go around the table and have each person share what they completed last week and what they're doing this week. Ask if there are any issues/obstacles.
  • Invite guest speakers. Have guest speakers present to the team what they're working on. Include Q&A time. Bonus points if the guest speakers come from the immediate project team.
  • Morale event. Shared activities help foster trust and closeness with one another...and encourages people to open up and share information. Simple, inexpensive morale event ideas include happy hour, watch a movie, or board game night.

The general theme: introduce stimuli that will intrigue the team...and get them talking. Hope the stimuli suggestions help!

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Is it possible that your group might prefer instant messaging or some other form of communication for team collaboration? Not to say you should never have a meeting but maybe all you'll need is quick check in meetings and then carry on the rest of the communication via collaboration tools (skype chat, AIM, collaboration site like LiquidPlanner). Some engineers I've worked with find themselves so deep in their 'zone' that they are resistant to stopping for a meeting. And, I can understand this, it's not always the most productive thing for them.

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Angeline gave a great answer, I fully support it.

I would build on it with two things-

1- Daily Stand Ups work even outside of agile: Three questions and everyone has to speak. The PM's job is just to keep the conversation moving and doesn't talk.

2- Understand the communication styles of your team. Bob is a brilliant engineer, but he's completely uncomfortable in a group setting. Talk with Bob one on one to get updates, don't ever put him "on the spot" in a meeting with "What do you think, Bob?" I recommend the DISC communication model as a great tool for understanding how people communicate.

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Think about a root cause of this situation. If they don't talk - they don't need to talk. It means that there is something wrong in entire project management situation. "People talking on meetings" is not your goal as a project manager. If it is - you're in trouble.

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