How to Get Your Project Team to Speak Up in Meetings

Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

I’ve never been a “big meeting” kind of guy. While many people find it hard to believe, I’m an introvert (INTJ on the Myers Briggs scale) and I tend to sit there and let the extroverts “think out loud” and the self-promoters hog the conversation. I was once pulled aside by my boss who rightly chastised me for not participating enough.

He told me he not only wanted to hear my opinions, he needed to hear them given my substantial expertise and background in the issues at hand. He was right. After that I tried hard to participate more, but to be honest, it wasn’t easy. Over time and with a lot of practice, I’ve gotten more comfortable in big meetings, but I’d still rather avoid them if I could!

You see, I’m at my best (or at least most comfortable) one-on-one or in very small group meetings. And, I’m not alone.

There are thousands of people just like me, and chances are you have a few on your project team. But like my old boss, you not only want to hear their thoughts and opinions, you need to hear them. That introvert sitting at the end of the conference table, off to the left (which is the best place to “hide” in a meeting) could probably save you from an embarrassing situation with a key stakeholder, or might have the best idea to solve a thorny problem.

So, how do you get that person to speak up?

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Bob Frisch and Cary Greene offer the following suggestions for ferreting out that important information from your team.

Take anonymous polls.

Ask people to write down questions or concerns on index cards, put them into a bowl and read them aloud without using names. Better yet, use a polling app or device to query meeting participants and see their answers in real time.

Heat map the topic.

Put poster-size charts of the components of an idea or plan on the wall.  Ask participants to place yellow dots on the charts where they have a question, and red dots where they have a significant concern. Use the dots to guide the conversation.

Break up a big group.

People are more likely to participate in small group discussions. So divide people into teams with specific instructions to discuss any challenges to the proposal at hand. Appoint a representative from each group to summarize their and their colleagues’ thoughts.

Ask them to empathize.

People are often more willing to speak on others’ behalf than their own. So when you solicit opinions with a question like “What objections or concerns might your direct reports have?” it can open the floodgates of reaction. That’s because it allows those in the room to externalize criticism.  It’s not what they don’t like. It’s what they think their people won’t like.

I’d like to suggest two more ideas:

Meet with your team members individually.

Sure, it takes more time but you’ll avoid all those weird meeting dynamics inherent in large gatherings.

Use the old school technique of calling on the person who’s not speaking.

While you don’t want to embarrass someone into participating in the discussion, projects are important and soliciting your team members’ thoughtful advice trumps worrying about whether they feel as if they’re being picked on.

And one last piece of advice: the next time someone doesn’t speak up but approaches you later with concerns about what was said or decided in the meeting, remind them that it’s important for them to participate in the group setting.  It shifts the burden of action from them to you, and we both know you have better things to do.

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s Leadership training at [/trx_infobox]

LeRoy WardJ. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs. 

Acknowledging the “Unseen” for their Contributions!

By Judith W. Umlas 
Sr. Vice President, Author, and Trainer – IIL

Before the holidays, I asked IIL VP of Worldwide Distribution Steve Osborn for the home address of someone in our company who had truly gone above and beyond for the Grateful Leadership initiative, and to whom I was extremely grateful. I thought that a gift would be the best way to express my gratitude. Instead, Steve then suggested that I consider all of the “unseen” people who worked tirelessly to make the Grateful Leadership courses, eLearning programs, materials, the gift packages available for people in order to help make the difference it has been our intention to make. These people, he said, are unseen, but their work is absolutely necessary to the success of this effort! And what was I going to do about this “condition”?

Hmmm…I wondered.  What would I do about it in the context of “walking the walk” and not just talking the talk? This was becoming a familiar theme for me by now, but one I hadn’t recognized as taking place in our own company. In a wonderful book called The Book of Awakening, author Mark Nepo wrote this in one of the passages: “I See You! …I Am Here!” was the title of it.  “For centuries,” he wrote, people “have greeted each other in this way. When one becomes aware of his brother or sister coming out of the bush, he exclaims, ‘I See You!’ and then the one approaching rejoices, ‘I Am Here!’ This timeless bearing witness is both simple and profound… for with this simple and direct affirmation, it is possible to claim our own presence to say, ‘I Am Here.’” When I read this beautiful passage, it spoke of the critical nature of seeing people – of acknowledging their value, their gifts and their talents. But how was I to acknowledge those I could not see?

Another example of this had occurred when I led a Grateful Leadership webinar for a Scandinavian company recently, and a participant named Knut shared that there is a Norwegian expression: “Det er viktig å bli sett” eller “Viktigheten av å bli sett,” which means “the importance of being seen.” Knut said, “Everyone needs to see and be seen…recognition, appreciation and feedback are important for each and every one to maintain a sense of humanity, personal worth and the feeling of being part of the surrounding social groups.” I thought this was totally correct, but I had missed it where it truly mattered – at “home,” in my own company!

But how was I going to be able to see…and acknowledge the unseen supporters of this important work in a place that I don’t work on a day-to-day basis? At the suggestion of the VP, I spoke with Melina Africa, Production and Administrative Support Manager at IIL Worldwide Distribution there. “Who are the unseen supporters of Grateful Leadership?” I asked. I now wanted to acknowledge each and every one of them, even though I hadn’t really thought about them (shame on me) a lot previously. Here’s what Melina had to say:

“I think I am a Grateful Leader,” she said a bit tentatively at first. “I know absolutely I couldn’t get the major projects we do at a moment’s notice for IIL companies and customers around the world, without our whole team. Just this week we got an order for IIL Printing on Friday afternoon that had to be completed and shipped and delivered by Monday morning, and everyone worked until the job got done. I know they would do anything for this company!” I started getting a guilt attack, but encouraged her to say more. “If even one of them were gone, I would be dead in the water. The team starts answering my emails and fielding phone calls when they know I can’t come up for air. The administrative group drops everything to come help out on IIL Printing jobs whenever needed. The virtual team was here all weekend to help support a pilot for a new client. The sales team tirelessly makes phone calls and helps our customers with their educational needs. The FedEx driver, Eddy, waits as long as he possibly can for our packages so that we don’t have to drive them hours away to St. Louis. They are all just amazing people, and almost no one ever sees or knows of their existence.”

I was shocked by my own lack of appreciation of all of these tireless, committed, loyal and happy workers. So I decided to express it tangibly, and sent a whole bunch of chocolate covered strawberries, which, I am told, were gobbled up in about 60 seconds! I included a heartfelt note that expressed my gratitude and appreciation to the IIL Monett team for all their hard work that goes essentially unnoticed.

So here are some of the wonderful people who work night and day to support all of us who benefit from IIL’s transformational Grateful Leadership initiative, and all the other wonderful courses and products that IIL offers.


Join me, please, in thanking and appreciating and expressing our gratitude to all of these wonderful people.  And learn from my mistakes and do seek the unseen in your organization, family or community…and acknowledge them for what they contribute to your life and work!


Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President and trainer at International Institute for Learning, Inc. She is the author of the ground-breaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment  and two other books which have been credited with changing workplaces and lives.

Judith delivers inspiring, motivational and transformational keynote addresses, course and webinars on Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment all over the world. Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment are Judith’s passion, mission and her purpose!

How to Understand Soft Skill Metrics in the Next Generation of Project Management

pm_2_0_3DMany years ago (i.e., before the Internet existed), I worked with a well-known colleague who was quite proficient at writing books. When I asked him where all of his ideas came from, he pointed to a small pad of paper and a pen in his shirt pocket. He stated that whenever any of his students asks a good question, he writes down the question immediately and later creates text material for his books around that question. Therefore, these questions often lead to individual brainstorming sessions for the creation of intellectual property.

I received a question from Sajjad Falahati, who is in the EMBA (Executive MBA) Program at the Alborz Institute of Higher Education in Qazvin, Iran:

I am an Iranian student currently working on my MA dissertation in which I am trying to customize and predict future phases of a flour mill construction project in Sarakhs SEZ, northeast of Iran.
The biggest question I have in mind is how to predict and translate behavioral nature of the Kerzner Project Management Maturity Model quantitatively.
Also, the project not being initiated yet challenges my work in that it leaves no chance for me to put my customized model into practice for now (and I believe the reason lies in the futuristic sort of approach that the Kerzner Project Management Maturity Model naturally takes).
I would be very grateful to hear your comments on this.

This is an excellent question and the timing could not have been better since I am in the early stages of preparing the next edition of my text on the Project Management Maturity Model (PMMM).

Maturity in project management is most frequently measured in terms of paperwork generated and hard skills related to the creation of forms, guidelines, templates and checklists. With hard skills (especially in regard to deliverables created with paperwork such as components of a methodology), there are several metrics and measurement techniques that can be used to show progress toward various levels of maturity. But in regard to soft skills or the behavioral side of project management, not many metrics existed in the past. However, today they are receiving some attention. There are some attempts to establish these behavioral metrics, but they are still in the infancy stages of development.

Some of these behavioral metrics under consideration include:

• Collaboration
• Commitment
• Culture
• Emotional maturity
• Employee morale
• Leadership effectiveness
• Motivation
• Quality of life
• Stress level
• Teamwork

Identifying these metrics is easy. However, the obstacle is the measurement technique—finding ways to perform the measurements over time will be challenging. Measurement techniques are now coming of age.

In the next version of the PMMM, I will be adding in material related to:

• The maturity process for establishing metrics and KPIs
• The maturity of project sponsorship and governance for levels of the PMMM
• Establishing criteria for measuring project business value along the PMMM path
• Transformational project management leadership

Mr. Falahati’s question is directly related to the last bullet above and indirectly related to the other three bullets. There have been numerous books written on the behavioral side of project management, specifically on effective project management leadership. Most of them seem to favor situational leadership where the leadership style that the project manager selects is based upon the size and nature of the project, the importance of the deliverables, the skill level of the project team members, the project manager’s previous experience working with these team members, and the risks associated with the project.

Historically, project managers perceived themselves as being paid to produce deliverables rather than managing people. Team leadership was important to some degree, as long as what was expected in the way of employee performance and behavior was consistent with the desires of the functional manager who conducted the employee’s performance review. In the past, project managers were expected to provide leadership in a manner that gave the employees a chance to improve their performance and skills, and allowed the employee to grow while working on project teams.

Today, project managers are being asked to function as managers of organizational change on selected projects. Organizational change requires that people change. This mandates that project managers possess a set of skills that may be different than what was appropriate for managing projects. This approach is now being called Transformational Project Management (TPM) Leadership.

There are specific situations where transformational leadership must be used and employees must be removed from their previous comfort zones. As an example, not all projects come to an end once the deliverables are created. Consider a multinational company that establishes an IT project to create a new high security, company-wide email system. Once the software is developed, the project is ready to “go live”.

Historically, the person acting as the project manager to develop the software moves on to another project at “go live,” and the responsibility for implementation goes to the functional managers or someone else. Today, companies are asking the project manager to remain on board the project and act as the change agent for full, corporate-wide implementation of the changeover to the new system. In these situations, the project manager must adopt a transformational leadership style.

Transformational project management is heavily focused upon the people side of the change and is a method for managing the resistance to change, whether the change is in processes, technology, acquisitions, targets or organizational restructuring. People need to understand the need for the change and buy into it. Imposing change upon people is an invitation for prolonged resistance, especially if people see their job threatened. Transformational projects can remove people from their comfort zones.

TPM, as it relates to the PMMM, is shown in the exhibit below.

Transformational project management & the PMMM

Although there are many elements of human behavior to be considered in a project management environment, I generally focus upon the factors that can influence project management leadership. In a simple context, leadership in project management is based upon one or more of the following:

• Leadership during the execution of a project where the project manager has no direct control or influence over the assigned project personnel
• Leadership during the execution of a project where the project manager has direct control or influence over all or some of the assigned project personnel
• Leadership during the “go live” stage of a project where the project manager may have direct control or influence over the workers for an extended period of time

Mr. Falahati’s question about the behavioral nature of the PMMM has forced me think about the necessity to include more behavioral information in the PMMM. Obviously, this is now becoming more important than I had anticipated. The growth of metric measurement techniques, especially for soft skill data, is now making this possible and I will certainly take this under consideration.

In February of this year, Wiley released a new book I wrote titled PM 2.0: Leveraging Tools, Distributed Collaboration, and Metrics for Project Success. I am conducting research for the next edition of this book, titled PM 3.0. One of the critical topics for PM 3.0 will be a better understanding of human behavior on projects and establishing behavioral metrics.

More research needs to be done on measurement techniques for use of soft skills metrics. Should Mr. Falahati continue on with his education and pursue a Ph.D., I would recommend this as his dissertation topic, and I eagerly wait to read his Ph.D. thesis.