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Three Tips For Holding More Effective Meetings (

Sergej DerzapForbes Councils Member Sergej is the CEO of Amasty, one of the leading Magento extension vendors building their products and services around customers' needs. Project managers spend much of their time communicating with stakeholders. Meetings are often held to discuss issues, form strategies, debrief and more. These meetings are an essential form of communication, and being able to hold an effective meeting is critical. However, holding productive and engaging meetings isn't always easy to do. To understand why, consider a 2014 YouTube comedy video titled "Every Meeting Ever" by creators Tripp and Tyler. The video illustrated some of the common types of people you might see in a business meeting, such as employees who always show up late or who are more interested in their phone than what's being discussed. The comments section is loaded with posts from jaded office veterans, such as, “Meetings: where the minutes are kept, but the hours are lost.” Years before that, Scott Adams’ popular comic strip Dilbert satirized the mundane world of the white-collar office, including the time-draining nature of meetings. Meetings are clearly flawed, and it seems humorists, satirists and YouTube commenters have solutions. So why is this topic still relevant? My favorite take on this subject can be found in a book called Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. I was inspired by the book, so I decided to take the opportunity to test how I could make my own meetings more effective. Below are a few important takeaways I learned on how to hold more effective meetings. 1. Categorize your meetings. Assigning your meetings to a certain category can help you stay on topic and focused. Take a look at your calendar, and assign your meetings to one of three groups: • Status: These types of meetings aim to synchronize the status of ongoing projects and activities. During status meetings, you can check milestones and transform plans into actions. I suggest holding these meetings at least once every two days for five to 15 minutes. • Tactical: During these meetings, you should discuss short-term plans and agree on next steps. In tactical meetings, you can analyze and tackle unforeseen issues and challenges. I recommend holding these types of meetings weekly for 45 to 90 minutes. • Strategic: In these meetings, you develop long-term goals for your company, brainstorm ideas, define a road map and align on focus areas. These meetings take time and preparation. In my experience, it’s helpful to hold these out of the office so that team members aren’t distracted by their day-to-day activities. I hold these once a quarter and ask stakeholders to block out their entire day for the event. Categorizing your meetings is also important because problems can arise when combining two types of meetings. Meetings in the "status" group, for instance, can be derailed and become less productive if the conversation wanders to the subject of what issues have surfaced in the past week, as these discussions should be reserved for tactical meetings. 2. Make a plan for what will be discussed in each meeting. An effective meeting starts with a clear agenda. In my experience, it is much easier to hold constructive discussions and agree on required actions if you start with a plan of what will be discussed. Without an agenda, the most important issues might not be discussed, and attendees could also become frustrated if they don't have time to prepare. I recommend using a project management tool to help visualize your agenda. Tools such as Mirro, Trello, Asana or JIRA can help you prepare for questions that might surface during a meeting. You can also keep track of action items and next steps all in one place. As an example, I use these types of tools to collect participants’ questions under a “backlog” column. This way, attendees can view the proposed topics before the meeting to help them prepare. Over time, the system evolved to require the classification of topics by priority (low, medium or high) using label colors. Finally, don’t forget to add items necessary to achieve strategic goals to the agenda. If your goal is to release the first product with augmented reality capabilities, for example, your list of to-do's to address during the meeting might including hiring an AR specialist, conducting market research, etc. 3. Include key stakeholders in meetings to keep things under control. I recommend including key stakeholders in every meeting, as this will help ensure all attendees add value. After all, it is much easier to come to an agreement, as well as hold a meeting in the first place, with a smaller number of stakeholders in attendance. To make sure that only relevant specialists are involved, split tactical meetings into two categories: weekly meetings to discuss ongoing issues and ad hoc meetings dedicated to a specific issue. Some issues with quick fixes can be resolved within five minutes. If a problem requires additional time and research, then a person can be assigned to the task, and an estimated time can be agreed upon. Through this method, you’ll find your team able to discuss all the issues that have arisen and identify any pain points. Each concern will have a dedicated team member responsible for the implementation of any necessary steps and will inform any interested stakeholders of progress during status meetings. What I’ve done is add a “status” column to my agenda to prepare for short sync meetings and ensure no steps have slipped through the cracks. Sergej Derzap Sergej is the CEO of Amasty, one of the leading Magento extension vendors building their products and services around customers' needs

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