November 13, 2012

Topic: Management & Leadership

To meet or not to meet, that is the question

I have a friend who moved to the Pacific Northwest after college and worked at Reebok and adidas, which are obviously large companies. Recently he went out on his own to be a consultant. We talked about why he made the change, how it was going, and so on, and he really seemed to like his new gig. When I asked what he missed least about his old job, he quickly replied, "The meetings!"

A lot of people complain about how much time they waste in meetings. So why should you even have them?

In anything but the very smallest business, some regular staff meetings are necessary for good general communication. But what about other meetings and ad hoc “get-togethers” organized to address issues?

I’m halfway through an interesting book called The Checklist Manifesto (yes, I said interesting, and no, I’m not a nerd) by Atul Gawande. The premise is to utilize checklists to get things right, particularly for process-driven or procedural activities. He makes a compelling argument, using examples of improvements made by pilots and surgery teams where checklists have become the norm. But even in the book, the author acknowledges that complex situations require interaction and discussion to get the best outcome. Hence, at times, there is a need to meet.

In the business world, most meetings aren’t just for general communications and disseminating information (like the typical staff meeting). Instead, these meetings need active participants to be worthwhile. One of our directors recently labeled this requirement "the obligation to dissent." In group situations, a member who disagrees with the group is obligated to speak up. If he or she doesn’t, the group decision is not optimized.

An example in my world would be a loan committee meeting in which a group of people with a lot of experience gather to address the complex decisioning of making – or not making – commercial loans. The discussion and debate are extremely valuable in coming to the best decision. Residential mortgage lending, on the other hand, is much more uniform, and one person carefully following a process can come to the right decision, with no need for a multi-person meeting to take place.

There is a lot of information out there on how to run effective meetings. But before you even start to plan your agenda, ask yourself if you even need to get the group together. Is it is a complex situation where the participants will actively give input to arrive at a better answer? As someone attending the meeting, are you prepared to participate with “the obligation to dissent”? If either answer is no, maybe it’s just a waste of time.


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