6 Ways to Get Value Out of Status Update Meetings

Last Updated May 10, 2010 7:15 AM EDT

When I speak to groups about their remote teams the one thing I hear every manager say is, "we don't have time to waste". That's probably true. Time is one of the most pressing constraints we face every day at work. The problem lies in some managers' definitions of what wastes time and what doesn't.

One of the major time wasters people identify is the regularly scheduled "status update". For some teams it's quarterly, for others it's more often but they are universally dreaded as time killers of the first order. That's a shame, because it's the single best opportunity for your team to learn what everyone is doing and what is needed to reach your (collective) team goals.

Here are some tips for making status updates more productive:

  • Start with the group that needs immediate input from the team. People are more focused at the beginning of a call than at the end, and if it looks like you're actually getting something accomplished they'll stay engaged longer. This means you (or the person running the call) have to do some research and prepare for the meeting. Live with it.
  • Establish a format for calls that starts with the valuable information first. (Where are you in relation to your goals? What does that mean for the others on the call? What help would you like from your teammates?. It might feel restrictive but it will keep people on track and prevent side conversations that actually do waste time.
  • Send a detailed agenda in advance . The key word there is detailed. It should include topics to be discussed, resources needed by each group and what decisions or outcomes need to be achieved. If people come in knowing something will be accomplished they'll be more prone to participate and help.
  • Don't spend an hour just because you've scheduled one. If teams know that their time is valued, they'll be more willing to invest it. A meeting that runs short because the work is done will be appreciated. A meeting that runs long because good things are being accomplished isn't griped about nearly as much as a meeting that finishes on time but accomplishes little.
  • Call on people who need to give input. If you as the manager know that Josh's team is going to be impacted by a delay or a problem, don't let him off the hook on the meeting. It's better to address any issues right away than let them simmer or handle a bunch of personal calls or emails after the meeting. Conflict can be uncomfortable but it can also be constructive when handled correctly.
  • Make sure action items and accomplishments are documented. Status updates serve two main purposes- to identify what needs to be done (which we all focus on) and to keep the team connected and motivated to the larger goal (which we frequently leave implicit if we think about it at all). Recording action items obviously keeps the team accountable for what happens next. Recording accomplishments holds you as the manager responsible. If you're not accomplishing anything then the meeting is, indeed, a waste of time. Let the team know their hard work is moving them towards the goal you all have as a unit. Their time is valuable, let them know it's not being wasted.
Remember that these meetings should be more about what needs to happen going forward than what's happened in that past. You can put that on a PowerPoint slide and email it.

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