Using Short Meetings to Stay on Track and In Touch

As companies grow and bring on more and more employees and add new hierarchical levels it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the entrepreneurial culture and atmosphere that existed when the business was first launched and everyone worked in the same room.  Moreover, the elaborate organizational structure that emerges when the company grows is accompanied by greater risk of breakdowns in communication.  Many companies respond to these issues by scheduling lengthy meeting and retreats; however, these sessions can be costly and are often seen as unproductive.  An alternative should be considered is regularly scheduled short meetings—no more than 15 minutes—of all employees to interact and communicate on specific topics of immediate concern and value to the business.  The format can be customized to the needs of the particularly company and ideas might be gathered from the following examples:

  • Each participant can quickly identify his or her one or two main priorities for the day and others can then provide information to assist in accomplishing those priorities or even change their own plans if necessary to facilitate completion of what appear to be the most important projects from a company-wide perspective.  For example, if the procurement department is having trouble with a vendor the CEO or CFO may offer to get involved immediately to ensure that the supply chain is not compromised.  If the manufacturing department reports that it is having problems with certain equipment the sales group can quickly contact customers to discuss necessary changes in delivery schedules.
  • Senior managers can report on what areas they intend to focus on during the day and thus provide those reporting to them with an idea of what the current priorities might be among the company leaders.  Interestingly, this process also provides the CEO with an insight into certain attributes of the management and communications styles of the members of the executive team.  A CEO may discover that a group head is spending too much time micro-managing the work of his or her subordinates and may need to work with that person to clarify what the proper objectives should be.  A tendency of a senior manager to horde information in these meetings may also signal problems that the CEO will need to address before coordination and communications issues surface.
  • Salespersons can be required to report all new accounts, or significant new opportunities with existing accounts, so that managers and employees in other departments can mobilize quickly to provide support directly to the customer.  The key to this process is using the information provided by the salespersons to quickly reach a consensus on which accounts are most important on that particular day.  This allows everyone to shift their priorities and narrow the focus of their activities for the remainder of the day.
  • Having employees mention any significant appointments with vendors or customers, or other anticipated absences from the office, allows others who need to speak with these employees to re-arrange their own schedules to avoid conflicts with the appointments or absences.  The byproduct is more efficient communication and a reduction in the time lost waiting for someone who is otherwise occupied to respond on a particular project.  In many cases employees find that a simple five minute face-to-face conversation right after the meeting accomplishes more than a string of e-mails and voicemails that extend over the course of an entire day or even longer.
  • Rather than simply be a recital of “to do” lists, important as that may be, companies with a larger number of employees may use the meeting to disseminate information about the overall performance of the business and the specific activities of particular groups or departments.  Senior management may identify particular key performance indicators that can be updated and discussed at regular intervals.  This gives all employees a chance to feel move involved with the company’s overall direction and perhaps offer their own ideas on how performance can be improved.  The meeting can also be used as an opportunity to recognize and celebrate different employees for their activities.

In addition to meetings with all employees, the CEO may convene short daily summits with a smaller group consisting of all of the members of the senior management team solely to focus on progress against, and their activities relating to, the company’s overall strategic business plan.  The purpose of these meetings is identify what the senior managers have been doing to achieve specific quarterly and annual goals and objectives and to allow the CEO to evaluate their performance and determine whether there are any significant issues or problems that might be preventing the participants from executing the activities expected of them and their subordinates as part of the strategic plan.

Regardless of how the meeting is structured, time limits should be ruthlessly enforced and meetings should begin and end at the same time each day so that the exercise becomes part of the organizational culture of the company.  The focus should be on communicating, prioritizing and perhaps celebrating company performance and the utility should be obvious to all in attendance.  These meetings should not become strategy sessions; however, they should be efficient enough to mop up all the nitty-gritty issues that can get in the way of the serious brainstorming and long-term problem solving that should occur when and if a strategy meeting is convened.

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