CategoriesCasesProject Team

Case: The Team Meeting

Vince was disappointed and, as he exited the conference room, one of the manufacturing personnel commented to Vince, “Don’t you know that the manufacturing people usually go to lunch around 11:00 a.m.?” Vince came up with a plan for the next team meeting.

Don’t feel like reading? Listen to the answers instead:

Every project team has team meetings. The hard part is deciding when during the day to have the team meeting.

Vince had been a “morning person” ever since graduating from college. He enjoyed getting up early. He knew his own energy cycle and the fact that he was obviously more productive in the morning than in the afternoon. Vince would come into work at 6:00 a.m., 2 hours before the normal work force would show up. Between 6:00 a.m. and noon, Vince would keep his office door closed and often would not answer the phone. This prevented people from robbing Vince of his most productive time. Vince considered time robbers such as unnecessary phone calls lethal to the success of the project. This gave Vince 6 hours of productive time each day to do the necessary project work. After lunch, Vince would open his office door and anyone could then talk with him.

Vince’s energy cycle worked well, at least for Vince. But Vince had just become the project manager on a large project. Vince knew that he may have to sacrifice some of his precious morning time for team meetings. It was customary for each project team to have a weekly team meeting, and most project team meetings seemed to be held in the morning. Initially, Vince decided to go against tradition and hold team meetings between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. This would allow Vince to keep his precious morning time for his own productive work. Vince was somewhat disturbed when there was very little discussion on some of the critical issues and it appeared that people were looking at their watches. Finally, Vince understood the problem. A large portion of Vince’s team members were manufacturing personnel that started work as early as 5:00 a.m. The manufacturing personnel were ready to go home at 2:00 p.m. and were tired.

The following week Vince changed the team meeting time to 11:00 to 12:00 a.m. It was evident to Vince that he had to sacrifice some of his morning time. But once again, during the team meetings there really wasn’t very much discussion about some of the critical issues on the project and the manufacturing personnel were looking at their watches. Vince was disappointed and, as he exited the conference room, one of the manufacturing personnel commented to Vince, “Don’t you know that the manufacturing people usually go to lunch around 11:00 a.m.?” Vince came up with a plan for the next team meeting. He sent out e-mails to all of the team members stating that the team meeting would be at 11:00 to 12:00 noon as before but the project would pick up the cost for providing lunch in the form of pizzas and salads. Much to Vince’s surprise, this worked well. The atmosphere in the team meeting improved significantly. There were meaningful discussions and decisions were being made instead of creating action items for future team meetings. It suddenly became an informal rather than a formal team meeting. While Vince’s project could certainly incur the cost of pizzas, salads, and soft drinks for team meetings, this might set a bad precedent if this would happen at each team meeting. At the next team meeting, the team decided that it would be nice if this could happen once or twice a month. For the other team meetings, it was decided to leave the time for the team meetings the same at 11:00 to 12:00 noon but they would be “brown bag” team meetings where the team members would bring their lunches and the project would provide only the soft drinks and perhaps some cookies or brownies.

How should a project manager determine when (i.e., time of day) to hold a team meeting? What factors should be considered?

To start with, it’s crucial to comprehend the general energy cycles of the team. Every individual has periods of the day when they’re most alert and productive. Vince, for example, recognized his peak performance during the early hours. Similarly, understanding when most team members are at their best can significantly influence the meeting’s productivity.

Next, consider the working schedules of the team. Vince faced challenges due to the early working hours of the manufacturing personnel. Similarly, if a team has diverse schedules or even members in different time zones, it becomes crucial to identify a time that is convenient for most people.

The nature and duration of the meeting are also pivotal. Short check-ins can be scheduled at the beginning or end of the workday. However, meetings demanding intensive brainstorming or strategic discussions should be placed at times when the team’s energy is high.

Feedback is invaluable. Before setting a recurring meeting time, seek input from team members about their preferences. Simple tools like a poll or a survey can provide insights into the majority’s preferred timing. Vince learned the hard way that not understanding lunch schedules can hinder participation.

Moreover, be prepared to be flexible. The needs of a project can evolve, and what works at one phase might not be suitable later on. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the meeting time and be open to change if required.

The ambiance of the meeting also plays a role. Creating a comfortable environment, like Vince did with the provision of lunch, can foster more open discussions and active participation. However, it’s essential to strike a balance so that such provisions don’t become a burdensome expectation.

Lastly, communicate the chosen time clearly and well in advance, employing team calendars or project management tools. This ensures everyone is informed, reducing potential conflicts or overlaps.

In conclusion, finding the ideal meeting time involves a mix of understanding team dynamics, gathering feedback, and being adaptive to changing needs. A project manager should aim for a balance that maximizes productivity while respecting individual schedules and preferences.

What mistakes did Vince make initially?

Vince’s approach to scheduling team meetings initially exhibited a series of misjudgments. Foremost, he prioritized his own productivity cycle without adequately considering the diverse schedules and needs of his team members. For instance, Vince knew he was at his peak in the morning and decided to hold meetings in his least productive time, between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. However, this timing clashed with the energy levels of the manufacturing personnel, many of whom started their day as early as 5:00 a.m. and were ready to wrap up by the chosen meeting time. Instead of proactively seeking feedback on an appropriate meeting slot, Vince made assumptions. This was further highlighted when he scheduled a meeting at 11:00 a.m., overlooking the operational norm that many manufacturing members took their lunch break around this time. His decisions, driven by a blend of personal preference and traditional meeting times, overlooked the practical requirements of his team. While Vince eventually recognized and rectified these issues, a more inclusive and communicative approach from the outset could have bypassed these initial challenges.

If you were an executive in this company, would you allow Vince to continue doing this?

As an executive within the company, my judgment of Vince’s management approach would be shaped through a combination of his demonstrated managerial style, the results he achieved, and his adaptability. Vince undeniably displayed a thorough grasp of optimizing his personal productivity. His methodical planning, where he earmarked his peak hours for key project tasks, is a testament to his self-awareness and time management expertise. Additionally, Vince’s resilience and adaptability are noteworthy. Although his initial scheduling was off-mark, his ability to recalibrate his strategy, especially by introducing the idea of lunch to enhance team participation, signifies a flexible management style. Moreover, his attentiveness to the team’s reactions and his swift response to a member’s feedback about lunch timings underscore his receptiveness to feedback.

However, there were evident lapses in his initial approach. Vince seemed to operate with a lens focusing primarily on his productivity cycle, somewhat neglecting a more inclusive and comprehensive view of the team’s dynamics from the outset. As an executive, there’s an expectation for a project manager to intuitively grasp and factor in these dynamics. Additionally, Vince’s initial decisions could have benefitted from stronger communication channels. A proactive approach, where he actively sought feedback on meeting times, could have bypassed the initial hiccups.

Given this nuanced perspective, I would lean towards allowing Vince to continue in his managerial role. His positive traits of adaptability and commitment to cultivating a supportive team atmosphere hold considerable value. However, to bolster his capabilities, it would be prudent for him to undergo further leadership or team management training. This would be aimed at sharpening his skills, particularly in areas of team communication and understanding diverse team rhythms. As an additional measure of support, instituting a temporary review or mentorship system could serve well to ensure Vince’s decisions resonate with both his personal productivity and the collective needs of the team. In essence, while Vince’s initial approach had its flaws, his subsequent actions have shown promise. With the right guidance and skill enhancement, I am confident he can develop into a key project manager for the organization.

This case, and questions, is take from the book “Project Management Case Studies – Sixth Edition” – 2022, by Harold Kerzner.

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