There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. - James Nathan Miller
One afternoon, I found myself newly assigned to a project that was already in motion. Given that I had little information about the project aside from the fact that it was scheduled to launch in just over a month, I needed to catch up quickly. So I joined a weekly call with the project team members, who represented various functions and disciplines, and I listened.
There certainly was a LOT to talk about, as the project team members were trying to make quick decisions and determine what the best solutions would be for the roadblocks that kept getting in the way. But I noticed that the team was talking in circles, repeating themselves and each other as they tried to figure out the best approach.
About 30 minutes into the hour-long call, I felt that I had enough information to understand the decision they were trying to make, and more importantly, that the person who could actually make that decision was not in attendance. So, mustering up some courage, I spoke up and asked some questions.
Is this the decision you are trying to make? I explained what I thought the issue was, and they confirmed it.
Is the person who can make the final decision on the phone right now? … A bit of silence, and then the realization that they spent way too much time on the topic given the fact that the decision-maker was not present.
You will find that as a project manager, you will run and facilitate a lot of meetings. In addition to making sure you create an agenda for every meeting, you need to make sure the meetings are as productive as possible, and that the right people are in the room to have the planned discussion. If one of those factors is missing, you will be wasting everyone’s time and be no further than you were when you started.
On weekly calls with a set group of project team members, you may not always have the right person in the room. It is not uncommon to need to reach out to someone else for follow up, and if that is the case, it is important that you realize it and manage the conversation.
Here are some tips to make sure you capture the decision needed and move along the meeting.
- Discuss the issue with the team so that it is fully understood
- Take note of different points of view
- Confirm what decision needs to be made
- Identify the appropriate decision-maker
- Assign someone (if not you) to follow up with the decision-maker by a certain date
Another good practice to get into is to send a recap message following your meetings that summarizes the key takeaways and actions. Obtaining the outstanding decision(s) should be listed in this message.
So if you ever find yourself on a call where people are talking in circles and you feel like no progress is being made, ask some questions to see whether the issue can be resolved during the meeting, or if it should be taken offline. And if the latter, then take note and move on!