Thriving or dying by meetings

2005

Have your machine call my machine. Beam that to my PDA. Use the meeting scheduling software. Meet online, face-to-face, by teleconference or videoconference.

However they're arranged, meetings help make the business world turn. And since meetings bring diverse knowledge bases together to collaborate on issues or solve problems, meetings are - and will continue to be - a necessary business practice.

A fundamental truth about meetings is that businesses can thrive or decline depending on how they use them. For example, one aspect of good meeting management is gauging how often to meet. Some companies have an appropriate number of meetings while other companies drown in them - and some don't have near enough.

One company I know of began suffering from meeting overkill when they started using meeting scheduling software. With hundreds of employees able to "invite" others to meetings without even talking with the invitee or stating a meeting purpose, it wasn't long before people were going to meetings they didn't need to attend.

Before long, key people were spending almost their entire day in conference rooms. The problem became noticeable when 70+ hour work weeks became the norm, and burnout began affecting attitudes as well as productivity.

At the other end of the spectrum, another company I know of doesn't see a need for meetings. They hold only two each year, and even then, nobody wants to attend them. Their paradigm is "we have work to do and we know what to do; why have a meeting?" You can probably guess that they are slow in responding to growing problems.

One solution that addresses both of these extremes is to clarify meeting purpose. In the first company, it took about six months of hectic running around before people caught on to that. If a meeting invitation came in with no clearly stated purpose, the standard question became "What is the purpose of the meeting?" If the answer was simply "status" or if the topic did not require input from the person, it became easy to decline the meeting invitation. As a result, countless man-hours were redirected to more productive activities.

Sadly, the second company has yet to see the value of purposeful meetings. They continue to follow habit and they continue to be slow in responding to market changes. As a result they are losing market share.

But it doesn't have to stay that way. A third company of which I'm aware also suffered from the "too few" meetings problem. Because they were small they believed that everyday conversations were enough to keep communication flowing. However, after one too many miscues and customers getting frustrated, regular meetings were instituted.

The leaders in this third company chose to meet weekly for the purpose of briefly updating each other on the challenges facing the company's projects, but more importantly to get input from one another. They recognized that "no man [person] is an island," and that each person brought unique insights and ideas that often saved hours of work down the road.

The stated purpose for their meetings became "updates and brainstorming." Infusing the brainstorming component gave the meetings an ongoing sense of excitement that carried over into all parts of the company. The result? Better communication, fewer miscues, and more profits.

Bottom line, it isn't rocket science. Either too many or too few meetings can diminish a company's effectiveness. But an appropriate number of meetings, each with a clearly stated purpose, can not only keep a company alive, it can cause it to thrive and even energize it with new life.

The challenge: Review the frequency and purpose of your meetings. It may be that everything is fine. Or it may be that a few adjustments can help you step up to the next level.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.