Project Management Institute

Focus Group

We Asked the Project Management Community: How Do You Establish an Environment Where Everyone Stays on Topic During Meetings?



How do you establish an environment where everyone stays on topic during meetings?


“I start by sending the agenda via email or with a meeting invite, along with any supporting project documentation, which helps participants prepare. During the meeting, when I detect divergent or skewed discussions, I diplomatically bring the conversation back to the meeting protocols and let people know that it can be discussed later. If you know certain participants are prone to talk longer or go off-topic, discuss the vital points with them in advance in an attempt to limit their questions during the actual meeting. Establishing a preset time limit can also help. If there are several points to discuss, I recommend allocating specific time to discuss each topic to maintain a focused discussion.”

—Rajaram Chinnakkan, project manager, Lowe's Cos. Inc., Bengaluru, India


“In virtual meetings, I share my screen so team members can see me taking notes during the meeting. This helps keep their attention. I send out an agenda ahead of time that identifies the topic, time allotment and owner or speaker. I try to make it the team's meeting, not the project manager's meeting. It's the simple things that keep a meeting productive.”

—Mary Bracciale, PMP, senior manager, The Chartis Group, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


“When the team is new, there will be a considerable amount of chaos, unease and divergent behavior, so team members must learn to collaborate. How a new team gels and the cadence built around team dynamics will help dictate how a typical standup meeting is conducted. If the right rules are set, the team will know the importance of time and the intention of these standups. They will practice punctuality, state exactly what is needed, ask what is appropriate and respect everyone else's time.”

—Robins Jacob Varghesee, PMP, advisory project manager, IBM, Bengaluru, India


“The purpose of a meeting should be to actively discuss the meeting topic. That said, keep reports out of it and keep your attendee list to only those who will contribute or benefit from firsthand exposure. If it's your meeting, guide the conversation by calling on individuals with specific requests and summarizing key points to keep the purpose at the forefront of the conversation. If and when a consensus is reached, immediately show gratitude for people's contributions, reiterate responsibilities coming from the meeting and close it out. You'd be surprised how thankful everyone is to be in a concise meeting where their attendance was meaningful.”

—David Mothersbaugh, PfMP, director of operations, PA Solutions Inc., Greenville, South Carolina, USA


“When it's a brainstorm meeting, I take the following steps:

  1. Prepare a list of agenda points with intended outcomes and names of associated stakeholders.
  2. Ascertain whether it's possible to do an audio/video conference or whether a physical meeting is mandatory based on agenda points and availability of stakeholders.
  3. Share the list of agenda points and intended outcomes—along with any other necessary materials or information—with relevant stakeholders.
  4. Begin the meeting on time, and start by announcing what's going to be covered and what isn't. Facilitate discussions on agenda points one by one, keeping track of time and desired outcomes.”

—Sanjeev Sharma, PMP, deputy general manager, business development, Greaves Cotton Ltd., Gurgaon, India


“For standups, we use an hourglass to remind the current speaker to stay on time. We have a five-minute limit, which helps make sure the speaker doesn't steer away from the subject. If anything irrelevant comes up, the host should take a note and then discuss it with the involved parties later. The goal is to create an environment where people respect each other's time and opinion, so nobody interrupts or brings up unrelated topics.”

—Ferenc Csizmás, PMP, project manager, Asia and Pacific region, NNG LLC, Budapest, Hungary

Look, a Squirrel!

In a digital-first business world, staying focused is a problem that extends beyond meetings. Here's how devices can create workplace distractions:



The breakdown:
70% Browse social media
45% Shop online
20% Dating apps





Source: GoTo, 2019


How do you bounce back from project failure—and how do you help teams rebound?
Email responses to [email protected] for possible publication in a future issue.

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