3 Critical Questions to Ask in Every Meeting

By | January 12, 2015

Kool Derby

A meeting provides the coordinator with the opportunity to get things done. In other words, you should get together only when there is something to do. I’ve attended some meetings in which the agenda was vague, which resulted in a waste of time for the attendees. To have a successful meeting, you must have a clearly defined plan. You need to know what will be discussed, who will attend, and the expected action items.

Standing Meetings are Unproductive

While I understand that standing meetings, those that are perpetually on your schedule, can provide some benefits, the fact is that many of them become routine. For example, the 9 a.m. Monday morning status meeting is merely an event designed to have a manager push information to the team members. Can this same information be provided via email? What if you had a 5-minute informal meeting with the key stakeholder? The point here is that meetings might be a less effective way to communicate compared to other mediums.

Here are three important questions you should ask during your meetings:

#1: Where are we now?

In project management, you identify baselines related to time, cost, and scope. You want to know the starting point. Similarly, in any meeting you hold, the coordinator must get a quick snapshot of where you stand. You cannot fix anything unless you know the beginning point. For example, are you behind schedule by two weeks? Are you under budget with the Thailand telecommunications project? Are you lacking critical resources for the hotel expansion venture? By knowing where you are right now, you can have a more productive meeting.

#2: What do you not know?

You can’t know what you don’t know if you don’t ask. During your meetings, you need to ask questions like: Do your team members have the necessary technical skills to handle the work? What is the uptime last month for the color printing machine? Is the risk management checklist you are using effective? What feedback are you receiving from the leadership team? What’s keeps you up at night? Ask specific questions to identify the root causes of problems and anticipate any potential risk events.

#3: What do we do now?

It’s imperative to walk out of the meeting with clear deliverables. Avoid scheduling a future meeting to discuss the action that will be taken. If no action points will result from the meeting, there is no reason to have it. Here are examples of action items:

  • “Mark, contact Japan Airlines to determine whether they can transport our shipment to Tokyo”
  • “Rayne, make sure to ask our CPA team how Sarbanes-Oxley regulations are tied to IT.”
  • “Richard, work with the Strategy Team to create the objectives for the Peru data migration initiative.”

Avoid standing meetings. The mere use of the word “standing” signifies stagnation. Instead, take a creative approach to having your stakeholders come together. Make sure the agenda is clear regarding the discussion items, and invite only those who can bring value.

Before adjourning, review the main points and start assigning action items. Only assign work that can be measured, and reinforce the importance of accountability. One final point: if the discussion ends early, let people go and get to work.

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