People don't come to team meetings consistently

People don't come to team meetings consistently. How do I fix that?
First, ask yourself why you think they aren't attending. Could it be perceived (lack of) usefulness of the meetings? Or is it more benign than that? (Is it general lack of time given all they have to do? Have you set a standard of expectation for attendance at your team meetings?) Do your meetings use the team members' time efficiently? Most people go to a meeting with their own sense of what's useful and what's a waste of their precious time. Have you aligned perceptions and expectations across the team? Now is the time to diagnose the problem, set a standard that everyone agrees to, and tune-up your meeting management skills.

Start with conducting a meeting effectiveness assessment to get some feedback from the participants and find out why they don't come consistently. Our Meeting Evaluation Guidelines provide a simple questionnaire and process to help a project manager assess meeting effectiveness and come up with concrete goals for improvement. Review the guideline and tailor the suggestions to your situation.

Next, review our Effective Meetings Checklist, which provides practical guidance for planning and running effective meetings. It includes attributes of successful meetings, meeting planning tips, leader DOs and DON'Ts, participant responsibilities, behavior tips, and more. This reference will help you develop your skills in running meetings and improve the productivity of your meetings.

Then meet with your team and establish how you all want these meetings to run. What they're for, why they're supposed to be valuable, what they should cover … and standards of behavior! See Establishing Meeting Ground Rules for a set of guidelines and examples. If your meetings are plagued by particular individuals wreaking havoc with their behavior, anything from interrupting people mid-sentence to rolling their eyes frequently to taking cell phone calls, see Solving Meeting Disruptions for exact sentences to use in the meeting to counter those problems.

That said, you may simply be facing meeting overload or work overload that keeps people overwhelmed and just punting on meetings here and there to keep their heads above water. In that case, after making your case for why it's important for people to be at the meetings and making sure you're running them well, be willing to work one-on-one with people to work around their particular time issues. Need to go brief someone separately because they just couldn't make it? Just do it! You definitely don't want to have to run the whole project like that, but reality is reality. What matters is keeping everyone informed and synced up; if you have take extraordinary measures here and there, so be it. But also find ways to let people attend for a shorter time period rather than the whole meeting. Is that guy from Operations swamped because so many people want his time? Don't make him sit through an hour every time. Build Ops stuff into the agenda up front, get him for ten minutes, and let him go.

Overall, it's the project manager's responsibility to make project team meetings useful and effective and a good use of everyone's time. So don't assume people are just being irresponsible by not showing up. Own the problem, examine the situation openly, get to the root of the real issue, and go from there to solve it with the team.

You can find more resources for addressing meeting issues, planning different types of meetings, and managing meeting agendas in our Meetings templates and guidelines.

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