Meeting Standards

Posted on Feb 22, 2012 | No Comments

If it feels like you’re always in a meeting, well, that’s probably because you are—especially if you’re a CEO.

That’s the core finding of a team of scholars from the London School of Economics and Harvard Business School. They’ve been collecting information on the schedules of more than 500 CEOs from around the world, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal.

“In one sample of 65 CEOs, executives spent roughly 18 hours of a 55-hour workweek in meetings, more than three hours on calls and five hours in business meals, on average,” the Journal noted. “Working alone averaged just six hours weekly.”

We’ve mentioned meetings often (herehere and here, for example), not least because Peter Drucker found them to be big potential time-wasters. But he also knew that they didn’t have to be that way. The key to successful meetings, in Drucker’s eyes, was to make sure that they became “work sessions rather than bull sessions.”

In The Effective ExecutiveDrucker put meetings into the following categories, and also offered some specific operating instructions for each:

  1. “A meeting to prepare a statement, an announcement, or a press release. For this to be productive, one member has to prepare a draft beforehand.”
  2. “A meeting to make an announcement—for example, an organizational change. This meeting should be confined to the announcement and a discussion about it.”
  3. “A meeting in which one member reports. Nothing but the report should be discussed.”
  4. “A meeting in which several or all members report. Either there should be no discussion at all or the discussion should be limited to questions for clarification.”
  5.  “A meeting to inform the convening executive. The executive should listen and ask questions.”
  6.  “A meeting whose only function is to allow the participants to be in the executive’s presence. . . . .There is no way to make these meetings productive. They are the penalties of rank.”

From there, good executives “sum up and adjourn”—and then they follow up. Alfred Sloan of General Motors always wrote up a summary of the main points and the conclusions reached at a meeting and sent a copy to everyone who’d been present. Said Drucker: “It was through these memos—each a small masterpiece—that Sloan made himself into an outstandingly effective executive.”

How do you make sure meetings are “work sessions” rather than “bull sessions”?

1 Comment

  1. Sergio
    February 23, 2012

    Good post. Interestingly in the same Effective Executive, Drucker points out qualities of a Servant leader and the reality that their time is not their own – although this isn’t an excuse for ineffective meetings.

    I hear over and over how meeting facilitation helps ensure effective outcomes. Although I haven’t used them myself, popular practices for this type of facilitation include:

    Six-thinking hats
    Five finger consensus

    I have instead been a firsthand witness to the effectiveness of meeting facilitation methods that start with and agenda communicated to all meeting attendees pre-meeting, then make the agenda clearly visible to everyone during the meeting (i.e. pin board) and finally rely on one of the meeting attendees (i.e. facilitator) to orchestrate the conversations around a workflow that converts agenda items into issues and then these issues into conclusions/next steps. By the end of the meeting the pin board should reflect consensus and final meeting results. Not need for meeting notes.

    As always, I also like to share the modern software developer’s perspective on meetings, I suppose this captures it.


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