The Streamlined Meeting

March 1, 2003
The Streamlined Meeting
On The JobTips for getting the most out of these time-devouring rituals.In this issue's column, instead of answering specific questions I will address what is, without doubt, one of the most common gripes that I hear from everyone in business. The topic: how meetings are horrendous wastes of time. As it happens, I just wrote a book called The 20-Minute Meeting: Seven Steps To Faster, More Productive Meetings. While the title concept might sound too good to be true, I know that any motivated company can streamline its "corporate meeting style."While it is no surprise that my friends who work at Herman Miller, Steelcase and Haworth are always grousing about meetings, even small companies seem to be addicted to these time-devouring rituals. In fact, sometimes I wonder whether the biggest problem afflicting business these days is not the recession, but rather the tendency to constantly meet. Employers tell me they hold meetings to "build consensus." Well, let me put that issue to rest once and for all. As I assert in my book, On the Job: How to Make It In The Real World of Work: companies are not democracies! All the consensus we need right now is this: Business is slow, so let's get out of the office and find some!The best way to scale back meetings is simply to eliminate as many as possible. To start with, I suggest we cancel all sales meetings in 2003. I know that sounds a bit radical, but what is a sales meeting? Mostly, it's a junket to discuss sales and new products, pontificate about corporate structure and then pat each other on the back. But, when there are no sales, what is there to discuss? That time is better spent in front of customers old and new, trying to drum up business. And the money is better saved to avoid more layoffs or benefit cuts.Now let's look at other dispensable meetings, which I divide into three categories.
* Morning or "breakfast" meetings
: Notwithstanding the lure of pastries, these meetings are simply a bad idea. Who wants to meet about anything first thing in the morning?
* "Off-site" meetings
: These gatherings in a non-work environment are supposed to inspire employees to think more creatively about old problems—to "clear the slate" for fresh insights. In truth, however, such meetings waste the time spent traveling and calling in for messages and money spent renting a space and catering lunch.
* "After work" meetings:
These are the ones held when you want to be with family or friends, or work out, or simply not think about work. These meetings are rarely productive.Of course I acknowledge that there are legitimate reasons to meet. Which brings me to the second best way to limit time wasted at meetings: Establish ground rules that maximize effectiveness and efficiency. Here are some of the most powerful rules for faster meetings:1. One person controls the meeting— period!2. Unless the meeting is spontaneous, inform all participants ahead of time about the meeting's duration, attendees, agenda and (if applicable) what they need to bring or prepare.3. Be sure there is a clock visible to all.4. Stick to the agenda at hand; avoid tangents and trivial chitchat.5. Apply the "No-Repeat Rule:" No one repeats something that has already been said.6. If a topic gets bogged down, move on to the next and return to the stalemated subject later.7. Conclude with a recap, including some time to resolve any confusion or misunderstanding. Follow up with an e-mail or brief memo outlining the gist—topics discussed and (especially) decisions reached. At the recap and in the memo, be sure to identify who's responsible for specific further actions. If possible, include a firm date for any follow-up meeting.Remember, all IS magazine readers are welcome to send me their resumes to be critiqued or their career questions. For the honest truth about what to do with your career, or the difficulty in trying to find a job, e-mail your most candid questions for a private response: [email protected]. I am listening.

The Viscusi Group, Inc. (www.viscusi is an executive search firm for the interior furnishings industry. Stephen Viscusi is the author of On The Job: How to Make It in the Real World of Work (Crown: Three Rivers Press). He also hosts the nationally-syndicated radio show, "On the Job with Steve Viscusi." Send questions for future installments of this column to: [email protected].

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