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Building Blocks for Teams

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What do we do in meetings?

This Page: Build Rapport | First Meeting | Project Meetings | The Agenda | During the Meeting | Self-Check

Many people dread meetings (partly because they have attended so many bad meetings), but when structured correctly, meetings can be an effective place to discuss group project isses together. Here are some tips which may help you have more productive and even more enjoyable meetings.

Build Rapport, But Make it Light

Meetings can either be a dreaded beaucratic ritual or a time to gather with colleagues to get some work done and share some small talk. Even though many people equate meetings with "serious work", the reality is that you may actually achieve more during a meeting if you take the time to establish a cordial relationship with your project mates.

While it's important to keep an agenda, meeting notes and maintain other "formal" meeting protocols, many successful project teams find they transition back and forth between formal business and small talk. Sometimes the flow even enables teams work through all agenda items quickly (although possibly out of order).

You may be spending a lot of time together, so you might as well try and like each other! So why not

As long as you get through your meeting agenda, it won't matter what side conversations you've had along the way. When a conflict does come up, you may find that you are all able to discuss the issue as only a minor disagreement rather than a major conflict because of the rapport you have built up. This may not work for all projects, but it's worth trying to establish rapport from the beginning rather than having to do it after a major blow-up.

First Meeting Protocols

The goal of the first meeting is usually to "reaffirm" the project goals and establish ground rules/communication lines for how the team should operate and what the intended goals are. Some suggestions include.

  1. Bring Project Assignment Documents - Remember to bring any project assignment notes, drawings or files your instructor may provide. Being able to refer to original documents during the meeting will help you clarify your planning.

  2. Introduce Yourselves - It's often easier to work with someone you know, so this is the chance to break the ice. Everyone should have a turn to state their names, say something about their backgrounds and why they are taking this course.

  3. Restate project goals - Even if your instructor has given you the goal already, it is important to make sure everyone has the same understanding of the assignment. One way to do that could be to have everyone write down or state five goals for the project, then compare notes.

  4. Name your team - This may sound very trivial but having a common name is a good way to feel closer to the project. Team names could be a number, a project name or something more lighthearted.

  5. Share contact information - You will probably want to share e-mail addresses, but phone numbers or AOL Instant Messenger usernames could also be valuable depending on the project. You should also establish when and how different tools should be used.

  6. Establish a timeline and assign tasks - For longer team projects, you may need to establish an initial work plan and decide who will do each task. See the Organize page for tips on how to establish a work plan.

  7. Set ettiquette ground rules - Although disagreements will arise, it is possoble to voice opinions in such a way so that conflicts do not escalate. Typically, it is suggested that personal attacks be avoided. See the Ground Rules section for other tips on communication groundrules.

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Project Meetings

In order for teams to achieve anything in meetings, the group needs a certain amount of structure to guide the goals. First, each team member should be clear on what his or her role in the meeting will be.

Before Each Meeting

A successful meeting starts before the meeting when a project manager or team leader informs members of the following.

  1. Meeting agenda
  2. Purpose of the meeting (information sharing, problem solving, decision making, coordination, planning, etc.)
  3. Whose attendance is required
  4. Where to find background or support materials required
  5. Schedule information (time, place, duration.)
  6. Minutes of the previous meeting and any specific pre-meeting assignments
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The Agenda

The meeting agenda is similar to a contract or agreement among team members and all team members should have input in the agenda. The meeting agenda should include:

  1. Date, time and location of meeting - Sending reminders the day before the meeting may be wise in some cases.
  2. List of attendees expected - It may be all project members by default, but sometimes only a few people may need to be there to discuss a specific issue
  3. Purpose of the meeting
  4. Order of business to be conducted at the meeting

Since a team should be empowered to govern its own affairs, all members should be open to the fact that any team member may modify an agenda.

For a project meeting, you may want to make sure that you leave plenty of time allotted for "open discussion" (maybe even the entire meeting). This allows the team to discuss any ongoing issues that the leader may not be aware of.

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During the Meeting

Teams often develop ground rules that extend to how they want a meeting conducted. Some possible team ground rules are:

  1. Be prepared for the meeting - Make sure you have read all revisions, viewed all messages, visited all the links and bring hard copies of documents with you (in a folder or notebook).

  2. Come to the meeting on time - If you know you will be late and can send off an e-mail or message, you should do so.

  3. Participate in the meeting. Don't be a lurker - Even if you're not a talker, other team members may need reassurance that you are following the discussion and are

  4. Start and end meetings on time - Some meetings run over a little bit, but no one wants to stay 30 minutes late each week.
    Note: If meetings are consistently long, then the agenda may be too crowded.

  5. Be prepared to drop a topic - If a team gets stuck on a topic, it may be wise to delay discussion of it for another time.

  6. Keep records of your own work and the team's compiled work - this will make it less likely that you will "forget" what went on in previous meetings.

  7. Value the diversity of team members - Unless the member is a "shirker" (never attends meetings or does work), then each person has something to contribute to the team. Make sure you know what it is.

  8. Support the team concept and process. Maintain positive group dynamics.

  9. Make decisions by consensus of all necessary team members.

  10. Listen and have an open mind - Make sure you understand what is being said and why it is being said. Speak up if you think you missed a crucial point.

  11. Summarize decisions and future plans before you leave - The team leader or another team member should summarize what was decided, where the project is and make sure each item in the agenda was covered. This catches many oversights that might be missed otherwise.

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Evaluate the meetings with the intent of improving future meetings. Ask yourselves the following as a team (or you as a member).

  1. Was the purpose of the meeting clear?
  2. Did the set up of the room help or hinder the meeting process? Could it be improved for meetings?
  3. Was jumping to conclusions allowed? Did the group help to suspend judgment and explore alternatives?
  4. Did the group use conflict in a positive way to differentiate ideas?
  5. Did the group work toward consensus?
  6. Did the team leader document the interaction when the process seemed ineffective?
  7. Did the group insist on action commitments (what is to be done, by when and who)?
  8. Did the group identify a follow-up processes?

HANDOUTS: Additional tips are available in the Penn State Schreyer Institute handouts.

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