What can I do to drive meetings to be better facilitated well when I am an individual contributor and not the PM or a manager?
- Make sure this is a serious issue to getting the job done
- Convince participants that the meetings are not being facilitated well
- Provide guidance on how to facilitate them better
Personal Preference or Professional Necessity
We all have those things we really care about. Things that we are convinced are critical to any successful team/company/whatever. For instance, I really care about having nice simple graphs. I hate excessive use of color, I despise 3D bar graphs, and I can't stand it when there's a lot of chart junk. I want to believe that no self-respecting customer would accept a report or a presentation filled with such hideous charts.
At the same time, I know that 90% of the office world uses them every day, and a good portion of those are successful.
So while I may have a personal preference to have everyone learn how to make charts properly, or at least to get out of the way and let me do them, I am far better off ignoring the urge to have everyone meet my standards because at the end of the day, bringing it up will cause friction for the sake of my personal preference. That isn't a very nice thing to do.
Is the fact that these meetings are poorly facilitated threatening your project schedule? If they are causing issues that threaten the project schedule, then it is definitely something that should be brought up. If the work is getting done despite the meetings, and you just personally dislike the meetings when nobody else has an issue, it may be better to let the issue drop.
Quod Erat Demonstrandum
If you've established that this isn't just personal preference, but something of consequence to the project, you need to bring everyone's attention to the issue. You say yourself:
I have considered simply not going to meetings without agendas and/or requesting agendas every time I receive a meeting invite, but because they are often from manager types, I'm not sure how well this would go over.
I'm a big fan of Dentsu's 10 Working Principles which are recited in a lot of Japanese companies. Of particular interest is #10:
When confrontation is necessary, don't shy away from it. Confrontation is often necessary to achieve progress.
If you are a key member of the technical implementation, and the whims of management are wasting your time, it is the responsibility of you (or someone else involved with the technical implementation who should handle this issue) to bring it up even if it does cause friction. At the end of the day, if the job isn't done right, you are the one left holding the bag, so speaking up now may not go over well, but it will go over well than making excuses about meetings after it's actually delayed the project.
Each project will be different, so there is no universal way to prove impact, but some simple methods are:
- Point out required development time, subtract meeting time, show disconnect
- Show specific delays due to meeting outcomes (or lack of meeting outcomes)
- Display lack of actionable items to progress the project from meetings
Ideally you are not the only person seeing the issues the meetings are causing. If you can get several members involved in technical implementation who feel the same way, bringing it up together will make the point far more strongly than just bringing it up alone. The point is not to be critical of the way meetings are facilitated, but rather show that the current meetings are getting in the way of project success.
Pave the Way for Progress
You say you have three goals:
- All meetings have clearly defined agendas ahead of time
- All meetings result in action items or next steps
- All meetings are shorter
I would reconsider changing your goals from reading all meetings to reading all meetings my technical team attends. Trying to influence meetings you don't participate in will be a headache and a half, and probably well beyond the scope of your job description. If there are meetings that ramble and do not directly influence the technical team, ask to have the technical team excluded from those meetings. If something important does come out involving your work, ask to receive an e-mail outlining the important action items, which can be discussed in the next technical meeting if necessary.
For meetings where the technical team is involved, you should ask if the relevant project managers lead the meetings, and coach them as needed to make it run smoothly ahead of time. Have them explain that to make technical meetings run more smoothly and make the technical development more efficient, that these technical meetings should have clearly defined agendas, should all be summarized, and last no longer than X minutes to maximize development time.
The story becomes much more simple this way:
- Technical implementation is falling behind because of meetings
- Meetings not involving technical issues shouldn't have technical staff attending
- Meetings involving technical issues should be led by technical staff to keep things on track
The management has an incentive to let you do things your way (if they don't, and the project fails, they were informed but refused). Your project manager has an incentive to run meetings you attend better (if you hold the same meetings and there isn't any difference, he looks like he doesn't understand his team's concerns). You guys have an incentive to support your project manager (so that you get to stay out of silly meetings). Everyone wins.
Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200
Though implied above, I want to reiterate the following:
- Do not tell the management they cannot lead an effective meeting
- Do not try to change meetings outside your realm of responsibility
- Do not focus on personal preference in regards to meetings, focus on achieving project goals