Have you ever dreaded a status meeting?
You’re probably not alone. Status meetings are a critical part in achieving an organization’s goals, completing projects, and keeping teams working smoothly. But they can easily become boring, distracting, or downright unhelpful.
When a whole team, comprised of different roles and personalities, comes together for a discussion, there’s a lot to juggle. Making a status meeting work for everybody is difficult -- which is why they so often go off the rails. But they don't have to.
Status meetings are only successful if the entire team benefits. Here is how to survive a team briefing and make it work for everybody, groups big and small.
Find your purpose
This is a time when it's helpful to work backwards. Instead of figuring out the logistics of the meeting first, instead, start by identifying the end goal of the status meeting. This question should shape your meeting, ensuring that it’s a useful meeting for all team members.
If your purpose is to update, make sure all departments are prepared to present their relevant information (and only their relevant information -- long updates aren't useful to the whole team). Leave time for discussing the future and possible outcomes. Be prepared to discuss roadblocks and potential hiccups.
If your purpose is to align teams, make sure the right questions are asked. Whether you are leading the meeting or just participating, make sure you can come away with a clear vision of team roles. Getting into the mechanics is the key to success with these meetings. Things like resources, timelines, and bandwidth should be discussed. Be open to criticism and opportunity in these meetings, because a lot of these meetings will be about arranging details.
If your purpose is engagement, speak up! Try starting the meeting with a quick icebreaker to get everybody comfortable with speaking to the group. If you're a leader, focus on asking open-ended questions, and if you’re a team member, don’t be afraid to chime in when you have a question or need clarification. Engagement in status meetings can be particularly helpful when facing a challenge. The more hands on deck, the better.
Make a plan
Planners and preppers rejoice! An agenda can make sure status meetings are both helpful and efficient. They set the tone for the meeting and prevent it from going in a million different directions.
Remember, there will be a number of people with different jobs at a status meeting, so the agenda should cast a wide net and include everybody in some form. Including time for finance or operation experts to weigh in is just as important as including leadership in the conversation.
To prevent presentations from sucking up a bunch of time, set a guideline in advance for how long each speaker has to brief the group. This is helpful in keeping updates focused.
Beyond department updates, other important agenda items are:
- Timelines: Briefly address the roadmap of a project, what deadlines are approaching, upcoming events, and the projected deadline. This is a good way to start the meeting because it puts everything else in perspective.
- Accomplishments: Every status meeting should highlight the successes, in addition to the challenges. Wins can be easy to forget about along the way, but they are a good motivator to keep going.
- Questions: Questions are natural and important, but can send the meeting off-topic. Decide in advance when questions can be asked and how questions will be handled (after each presentation, at the end of the meeting, etc). Decide how you will handle off-topic questions, like writing them on a whiteboard to be addressed later by email.
Most importantly, stick to the agenda! It can take a few meetings to get a format down — and there are plenty of templates on the internet — but closely following a schedule will help keep distractions at bay and create a meeting that works for everybody.
Make action items clear
It’s easy for a status meeting to become a brainstorming session, and it’s easy to see why. Bringing people together, especially if they don’t regularly communicate, is a natural place for ideas to happen. While brainstorming can be a good thing, it can also distract from the goal or even be an opportunity for conflict.
Likewise, even a mellow meeting can end without a clear path forward. That can be just as frustrating. Status meetings should always end with each team member knowing exactly what’s next and what they should be working on.
Make time at each meeting to go over and address action items, which are tasks that are assigned and should be completed. Whether they are divided up by person (for small teams) or departments (for big teams), they should be specific, like following up with a specific client or gathering a certain set of data.
Make time to discuss whether action items from the last meeting were completed and what’s required to be done before the next scheduled meeting. If people encountered problems in getting their previous action items done, take this as an opportunity to see how the process can be simplified in the future and reset expectations or deadlines.
Be sure to include details like a deadline, ramifications if not completed, and workload. Are all the resources in order to complete the task? If not, what’s needed?
Keep good notes
We all know how hectic work can get, and even important information in a meeting can easily be forgotten.
It’s always a good idea to designate one person to take notes for the meeting. Any new decisions, presentations or important conversations can then be easily recalled later on. It’ll also make future meetings easier because everybody will know exactly what was already covered and what actionable items were decided upon.
Especially in fast paced meetings keeping notes can be difficult, so bring a recorder to make filling in blanks easier. A good outline for later will always be helpful.
We can quickly forget any feedback or questions after a meeting, so team members should also come prepared with note taking supplies, too. An easy way to debrief is to add a “final thoughts” section to notes with big takeaways and follow-ups that are needed.