Meeting the Need
Or I suppose this would be better titled ‘Meeting, the Need?’
I’ve seen numerous startup companies lately booking conference rooms in my incubator nearly every day. Some are actually booking meetings several times in one day. They seem to feel a need to bring people together for at least an hour to talk about various issues, plan strategies, troubleshoot customer problems, etc.
An old plaque on my office wall stated, “No one ever built a statue to a committee.” (I believe it was attributed to politician Roger Stone, a variation on the saying, “ No one ever built a statue of a critic.” Ironically, film critic Roger Ebert did receive such an honor. But I digress.)
The point is, too often committees are where great ideas go to die. If you want to halt progress, form a committee.
“A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done,” said American comedian Fred Allen.
Universities are notorious for establishing committees, as are large companies. I even knew one place (which shall remain anonymous, for fear of retribution) that “appointed a committee to determine the composition of the actual committee” formed to hire someone for a particular job. SERIOUSLY!
Forming a committee does accomplish something. Two things, actually:
- It allows members to avoid responsibility and, therefore, blame. “Hey, I couldn’t help it, the majority on the committee felt it should go that way!”
- Secondly, it absolves liability. “Hey, it wasn’t MY fault, it was the committee!” (There is a difference between responsibility and liability.)
Committees go a great distance to, well, distance themselves from responsibility and decision-making.
That’s why people look to LEADERS rather than committees. People admire others who “get things done.” History tells the story of great leaders whom people followed because they accomplished great things; they were outstanding speakers, and they cut through the “red tape.”
In contrast, history doesn’t share many accounts of great committees (OK, maybe the Continental Congress), but history does memorialize incredible leaders.
But back to meetings — whether committee meetings, staff meetings, employee meetings, strategy meetings, or meeting meetings (you knew I was going to say that) — are they really necessary?
I have three basic rules regarding meetings:
First, every meeting MUST have a written agenda, or else I won’t be attending it. If you have a written agenda, you will stick to it and accomplish something, or people will leave with assigned tasks, or a decision will be made. If you don’t have an agenda, the meeting can casually drift for an hour (or two, or three, etc.) until finally it just dissolves and nothing got done.
When I was part of a large Fortune 500 company, I attended a variety of meetings. My friend and I estimated the salaries of everyone attending and then calculated the monetary cost of the meeting (that often adjourned with no benefit). In the course of just one month, it was staggering to see what had been spent to accomplish, well, nothing!
My second rule involves a combination of timing and attendance. I like to schedule meetings earlier in the day, but not first thing. People need an hour or so to acclimate themselves to being back at work. However, scheduling meetings at the end of the day is ridiculous. People are worn out, not at their best, and often not interested.
In addition to the time you hold meetings, attendance is important. You need the people at the meeting who can assist in driving a decision. If someone who is critical to the process/problem/product cannot attend, unless you’re under a tremendous deadline, POSTPONE IT! Reschedule, and make sure the key players are available.
I also like to set odd times for meetings, like “10:19 AM.” I learned that from one of my early managers. People tend to remember those and try to be on time. Whereas, 10:30 might be considered “around 10:30,” and it doesn’t matter if you’re late, 10:19 seems specific (and odd, therefore memorable and meaningful). Of course, if you do that, start the meeting at 10:19, or you’ll lose that benefit.
Last, in your agenda, drive three items:
- A purpose for the meeting;
- Task assignments for individuals to resolve issues, derive strategies, and to complete before the next meeting; and
- A decision/inflection point at the end of the meeting. Is the decision to resolve something, or to set up another meeting? Do you need another meeting immediately, or within a few weeks? Is this EVER going to end? (I feel that way about some meetings, which is why I limit them to an hour).
So, in conclusion, I’m encouraging you to cut down on meetings; have meetings with an agenda, time and purpose; set action items to get things done; and, oh, yeah, cut down on meetings!
Yes, meetings have a place in business today and perhaps business cannot be done without them, but too much of anything isn’t a good thing, right? Be purposeful. Be meaningful. Be focused. Perhaps we can meet about that sometime soon? 😉
Mark Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues around the world. He shares his experience, outlook, background knowledge, studies, and observations in regular posts at the IncubatorBlogger. Feel free to follow him there — or follow him and UF Innovate right here.
University of Florida Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the laboratory to the market, fostering a resilient economy and making the world a better place. Based at one of the nation’s leading research institutions, UF Innovate comprises four organizations: Tech Licensing, Ventures and two business incubators, Sid Martin Biotech and The Hub. Within the UF Office of Research, the three organizations form a comprehensive system to take technologies from the lab to the public, bringing together the five critical elements in the “innovation ecosystem”: facilities, capital, management talent, intellectual property and technology-transfer expertise.
Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on January 14, 2020.