Meetings are windows on the soul of business: they reveal the quality of its management.
Well-organized, well-conducted meetings bespeak an effective organization. Meetings
afflicted with sloppy planning, flimsy agendas, and fuzzy expectations indicate
a not-so-effective one. Here are some tips for tightening and energizing your
Intel Corporation (San Jose, CA.), those who call a meeting must first assess
whether the meeting is necessary. They'll e-mail ideas to a few people for comments
and suggestions, draft an agenda, then distribute it to a wider audience for
revisions. The result is a one-pager containing the meeting's purpose and goals,
subtopics with time frames for each, a list of attendees, and what each one
should bring to the table. It's distributed in advance to attendees and to the
appropriate business-unit chief, who might later check it for quality.We know
from experience that 80% of the hard work gets done before the meeting even
begins," says Michael Fors, Intel's corporate employee-development manager.
We're all responsible for using our time effectively, and we're aware of the
Let the Agenda Dictate the Setting and
You don't always have to meet in an airless conference room. Senior executives
at Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta gather each morning in the hallway outside the president's
office for a ten minute "quality talk." Managers at Cabletron Systems
(Rochester, NH.) have mastered the art of the stand-up meeting – no seats, just
solutions. The food teams at Whole Goods Market stores meet weekly to forecast
the financials – but when they're behind schedule, they might meet in the frozen-food
aisle. Get creative; shake things up. Consider hosting your next brainstorming
Roles and Rules
Create roles and policies to stimulate discussion and keep it on track.
A facilitator equipped with a watch or egg timer leads the discussion. A scribe
takes notes on a dry-erase board. Intel also has a gatekeeper who makes sure
everyone has a chance to speak. Of course, employees need to feel they can speak
honestly without retribution. Springfield ReManufacturing Corp. (Springfield,
MO.) has a no-griping policy to ensure that comments are positive and objective.
At Foldraft Co. (Kenyon, MN.), managers dressed as referees call timeout when
speakers at all-company meetings stray from the topic at hand.
At the close of Intel's meetings, attendees are encouraged to mentally answer
questions posted on conference room walls. Why was I here? What was my role?
Was I well prepared? What was resolved? The process helps people clarify their
thoughts so they can contribute to the meeting-minutes document, which is posted
on internal Web pages within 24 hours. This one-page summary lists key issues,
decisions made (and by whom), action items by owner, expected results, firm
deadlines, and the next meeting date – all for tracking purposes.
Challenge Employees to Improve Meetings
Develop success criteria for each of your meetings. An executive briefing, for
example, may have different objectives than a brainstorming session. Then get
people involved in evaluation and improvement. "Meeting effectiveness is
a line item on our team development scorecards because we want to know how it
impacts team deliverables," says Intel's Fors. "We also have annual
culture surveys at the business-unit level to assess how well we execute action
We Have to Stop Meeting Like This
According to surveys by the Wharton Center for Applied
Research, managers report that only 56% of their meetings are productive – and
that 25% would have been more effective as conference calls, memos, e-mails,
or voicemails. Conclusion: the cost of misguided meetings is high. When
meetings aren't paying off, explore your options and make substitutions, CEO
Kris Kile of Total Restoration (Amherst, NH.) switched to a combination of broadcast
voicemail and follow-up memos when the cost-to-payoff ration for weekly meetings
shot up. "As we added people, our 30-minute sessions started costing us
10 hours of overtime per week, or the equivalent of 15 person-hours," he
explains. "Now I deliver short, focused pep talks by voicemails whenever
necessary, I'll describe our current financial picture and remind people of
our goals. To reinforce the learning, we attach a summary of our critical cost-of-sales
numbers to their weekly pay stubs." The system is easier – and much less
If You Want to Learn More...
The Big Book of Business Games: Icebreakers, Creativity Exercises,
and Meeting Energizers by John W. Newstrom and Edward E. Scannell (1996-McGraw-Hill,
170pp. $17.95. Tel. 800.352.3566 or 212.512.4100). An oversized paperback jammed
with more than 70 games and activities designed to spice up meetings and presentations.
A helpful first stop for managers who want to learn about the latest technology
used to facilitate real-time (multi location) and Internet meetings.
Reprinted with permission from Harvard Business Communication:
A Newsletter from Harvard Business School 06/00.