Meeting Formats

All meetings should have an overriding reason for being held. Meeting requirements and scope should be clearly defined. This activity aims to ensure inclusion of the right considerations and agreements for determining the appropriate type of meeting to use. It also enables the chairperson to cater to the bespoke needs and situation by customising the meeting. The purpose should be made clear at the first notification of the meeting, as well as at the start of the meeting. Frequently, meeting purposes fall into the following categories:

Informing.Providing, clarifying, or receiving data or knowledge.
Decision Making.Reaching a judgement about an action or actions to take.
Problem Solving.Developing agreements to address a situation that needs changing (resolving issues or capitalising on ”unused opportunities”).
Planning.Establishing goals, priorities and action plans.
Team Development.Building familiarity, trust and shared modes of conduct among group members.
Training.Bringing group members up to a common level of familiarity with a product or process.
Monitoring.Evaluating/tracking progress towards objectives over time.

While some meetings can, and frequently do, have more than one purpose, it is useful during planning to have the facilitator or chairperson establish the principal reason for the meeting. This will help bring clarity, and the right emphasis, to other decisions about the meeting format and design. Some meeting formats or communication methods are better suited to obtaining specific goals than others obtain. In evaluating the appropriate type of meeting the following considerations can be used as a guide:

Communication Method
Meeting PurposeFace to face MeetingWorkshopTeleconference / NetMeetingVideoconference
InformingXXXX
Decision MakingXXX
Problem SolvingX
PlanningXXX
Team DevelopmentX
TrainingX
MonitoringXXX

Meeting Format Characteristics

Meetings can take various forms. Some forms are more appropriate than others depending on a number of factors. The chairperson of the meeting needs to decide the best format for the meeting to take, in order to increase the potential benefit that the individual attendees gain or give to the meeting. Unfortunately there is no science that can be applied to the decision whether to use a simple face to face meeting, a workshop or videoconference. It is a judgement decision made by the chairperson as part of the planning. The matrices below may help in making that judgement, but other factors need to be taken into consideration such as cost and logistics – particularly when trying to bring people together into workshops.

Communication MethodTypical characteristicsDesired Outcome
Face to face meeting.Usually less than 2 hours duration.Small number of people.Provide a vehicle for idea generation, brainstorming and solution design.Communicate project progress and issues.Meetings foster good team dynamics.
Workshop.Formal structure.Can be off-site.Must be facilitated.2 hours to 2 weeks plus.Communicate key messages effectively.Obtain feedbackRaise relevant issuesObtain agreements as appropriateMake recommendations concerning issuesProblem solving via smaller groupsEffective training via exploration, and team research particularly of concepts.
Teleconference.Geographically dispersed people.Usually less than 1 hour duration.Discipline required by participantsGround rules important.Communicate key messages cheaplyRaise relevant issues.Obtain feedback.
Video conference.Geographically dispersed people.Usually less than 2 hours duration.Less than 4 locationsBest if facilitated.Communicate key messages effectivelyObtain feedbackRaise relevant issuesObtain agreements as appropriateMake recommendations concerning   issues.
WebinarSimilar to teleconference but also allows sharing of applications (e.g Word) via the internet.Communicate key messages cheaplyRaise relevant issues.Obtain feedback.

Workshop

A workshop format is probably the most flexible in its potential for achieving the desired outcomes.

However, the Project Manager must additionally consider the logistical problems and costs of getting people together in a single location particularly when the attendees are in different countries.

When the attendees will need to travel to attend, this travel time should be considered as part of the cost, together with any flights, and hotel expenses. Additionally it may be difficult (unless planned a long time ahead) to find sufficient space in diaries for all attendees.

Teleconference

A teleconference is a very effective and cost beneficial way of communicating within a dispersed project team. There are almost no restrictions to the number of participants. Nevertheless there are some further requirements, rules and roles which have to be defined first and followed in order to have a successful teleconference:

  • Appropriate infrastructure (e.g. meeting room with speaker phone, international phone lines on the phones if required) should be on site.
  • An internal or external provider for teleconference set up (for dial in number, pin code, close out procedure for late arrivals etc.) should be available.
  • A facilitator (also the time keeper) or a chair man should be nominated up front.
  • An agenda should be set up and distributed to the team via an appropriate channel (e.g. email, hardcopy).
  • Every speaker should identify himself when he raises the voice (especially when people don’t know each other but also due to bad telephone lines e.g. overseas call).
  • Document and track actions to be taken (Who, what, until when).
  • Minutes of the meeting should be produced (if you don’t have administrative support, agree on documenting only the decisions taken) and distributed to the relevant parties.
  • They should be held on a regularly basis (e.g. weekly cycle) and whenever possible with the same set of numbers (telephone number and pin code).

Videoconferences

Videoconferences have the advantage of being able to share material such as charts or diagrams as well as seeing the people involved. However, they are more logistically challenging than teleconferences.

From the infrastructure point of view the challenges increase with the number of sites. The number of participants needs be kept quite small in order to have an effective and efficient meeting. As a rule of thumb less than 5 persons per site and a maximum of 4 sites should be attempted.

Using more than two sites tends to significantly increase the technical and meeting management complexity, and should be undertaken with due caution and adequate preparation. From experience it can also be said that it is highly recommended to have a technician on site or at least somebody who is very familiar with the technical infrastructure.

Due to the mostly low quality of the pictures and its relation to the costs it is recommended to use videoconference only for special meetings where there are reasonable advantages over a teleconference.

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