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Status Meetings are Necessary- Do They Have to Be Evil?

Most of us have had to stop what we're doing to attend a status meeting.It's taken as gospel that they are a necessary evil. Yes, getting accurate updates, sharing successes and keeping things on track is necessary, but does it have to be so boring, unproductive and downright painful? Not if you do them right.

According to statistics by Clarizen and Harris Interactive, 59% of us complain that preparing for a status meeting actually consumes more time than the meeting itself. Furthermore, over 60% of people admit to multitasking (reading email, sending messages, clipping the dog's toenails) during status meetings. This is especially true online, when you are away from the boss's withering stares.

The problem is that most project leaders and managers run these meetings out of habit, and not because they've given much thought to what they are supposed to achieve. Once you figure out what these meetings should (and shouldn't) do, it's much easier to figure out how to make them really work for you and your team.

One person who's given this a lot of thought is Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of Clarizen. They create software to make meetings and communication more effective. He says there are some reasons that the regular status meeting can suck the life out of your team:

  • Focusing on logistics and updating information rather than using the time together to brainstorm, solve problems and collaborate.
  • Taking the time out of their lives to get them together, then cutting off discussion or debate in the interest of time. It's either worth talking about or it's not.
  • Letting the agenda dictate the time frame, rather than adjusting the time frame to what is most urgent and important.
  • Not establishing, and maintaining focus on, clear goals at the beginning.
He has a couple of suggestions for keeping meetings short and getting the most from the limited time people spend together.
  • Don't spend a lot of time going over material that's easily referenced and sent up front. People should have real-time access to documents and reports and read the numbers for themselves. Time can then be spent on the implications of the information, not just regurgitating what people can already see or already know.
  • Use software like Clarizen, Basecamp, or even Google Docs or Sharepoint to create one central repository for all project-related items.This includes lists of tasks along with their status, related documents, related e-mails, notes, discussions etc. Instead of using a status meeting for updates, one can access the system and view real-time data at anytime.
  • Use the collaboration tools to work together in real time.
  • Facilitate the meetings so that everyone gets their chance to contribute and people get the chance to see and hear each other in action. Online whiteboards, web cams, sharing applications in real time all help build a sense of teamwork and people can see progress as it's made.
  • Empower your team to send up a flare when things go off track or work isn't being productive.
While taking the time to sit and plan your status meeting might seem like precious seconds we could spend putting out fires, it's actually likely to result in clearer objectives and better meetings. Then they can be what they should be: more necessary and less evil.

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photo by flickr user Express Monorail CC 2.0