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Ken Adelman
Political advisor

Ken Adelman

A Reagan-era Ambassador and Arms Control Director, Ken Adelman is co-founder and vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which offers executive training and leadership development.

'Let's Meet as Little as We Can!'

As the world's greatest business consultant, Shakespeare got it about right: "Let's meet as little as we can!" That's true in both duration and frequency.

To "meet as little as we can" per meeting, it's smart not to make the gathering too cozy. In the mid-1970s, for morning updates on Congressional and public affairs at 7:30 am, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had us stand in his office to report. Funny how concise the updates were when we were all standing.

On frequency, it's smart to think carefully about what any meeting's supposed to accomplish. If it's merely about information, as opposed to decision-making, then put the information in a snappy email. That's faster and more convenient for everyone.

The one exception to this plea to "meet as little as we can" is when the organization needs a major change. Then, it's all about the pre-meetings, those with individual stakeholders to satisfy their more parochial interests and to bring them into alignment with others -- to meld many interests into an overall approach or policy.

That takes a lot of time and effort, and makes The Meeting quite predictable, but nonetheless important (for moral-building, explaining the exact nature of the decision, clear acceptance by others in the organization, feeling of participation by all, etc.)

Hate to harp on it, but the 27-year old Henry Vth does meetings so superbly that Shakespeare rewards him by naming a play after him. Now, if a 27-year-old former bar-rat, new to his big job can do that, then we with more experience and years can, too.

By Ken Adelman

 |  October 8, 2009; 6:14 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Joy of Meetings | Next: The Generous Listener


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Thankfully, I wasn't in upper management, so I didn't have to suffer through many meetings. I find a lot of meetings to be about "What Needs To Be Done". There's very little on whether or not any changes will take place after the meeting.

My ex-boss attended so many meetings, he was virtually unreachable. I had an idea to put crazy glue in his chair, then invite him to sit down.

I agree, it's mostly all talk - no do. Avoid Swiss-run companies like the plague. I mean, they did come up with ISO.

Posted by: MichelleKinPA | October 8, 2009 1:37 PM
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1. Meetings when necessary
2. Ask when you have a question
3. Take your instructions
4. If you do comment, try to direct credit to colleagues as often as to yourself, or give an excellent original idea

Posted by: cmarshdtihqcom | October 8, 2009 1:15 PM
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Pardon me, but is Ken Adelman paying for this advertisement?

Posted by: jpt3 | October 8, 2009 12:41 PM
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In the field of green building, in order to fully integrate a building's design with the site in a sustainable manner, meetings are really important. Yes, they can be long, boring, and filled with ego-driven arguments but their purpose is to provide a well-informed design team that can analyze a problem from many angles in a relatively efficient manner. This process is far better than the standard of doing a design, sending it to the consultants who have no communication with one another, and have them fix it during construction at the greatest cost to the client. In these situations, meetings are very important.

Posted by: nklank | October 8, 2009 12:34 PM
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Pointless, agenda-less, and agonizingly long meetings are something, unfortunately, I've had to suffer through quite a bit in my military career. Another reader commented that he was taught as a 2nd Lt how to conduct effective meetings. Well, either most of the officers I know were never taught that lesson or they forgot it once they made Colonel or General. The Pentagon is the worst. Other higher headquarters are just as bad. Pointess meetings after pointless meetings after pointless meetings. I often come out of meetings wondering why I had to attend and exactly what decision was made.

Posted by: joelwright1 | October 8, 2009 10:55 AM
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Yes, meetings are where one goes to have the last vestiges of respect for one's self, one's profession and one's peers extracted without anesthesia.

I think they properly reflect bad decisions made during the hiring process.

Half of executive level corporate America could be terminated tomorrow with no ill effect other than a downturn (temporary) in consumer spending.


Posted by: MichaelATX | October 8, 2009 10:44 AM
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Hmmm, conflicting advice given here. Meet as little as possible, but then use a daily meeting as an example. And also talked about the importance of pre-meeting meetings??? (is that the same as having a meeting to talk about the meeting? :)

Don't worry Ken, I get it. Working in the corporate world or government world or self employed, they all suffer the same. Pointless, agenda-less, situation awareness only meetings are a waste of time, resources and personal energy. Leaders should provide mission vision and guidance, delegate appropriate levels of decision authority, and establish regularly occurring decision meetings with specific objectives IAW a work breakdown schedule, and provide an open door avenue for "emergency" decisions.

BTW Ken, stand up 30 minute meetings can be just as rambling and a waste of time as 2 hour meetings in recliners with donuts. Remember, Rumsfeld is the knucklehead who declared prolong standing as something he could do all day and so wasn't a form of torture. Hmmm, I wonder if he was thinking of his morning "make me feel warm and fuzzy" meetings. :)

Ken, you should have limited your meeting advice to one line and pumped it up. "it's smart to think carefully about what any meeting's supposed to accomplish". Not just smart Ken, essential. Meeting discipline starts with setting an objective, then an agenda to accomplish the objective, controlling the meeting to stay on the objective and following up with minutes and action items to close the objective.

Really Ken, this is old stuff that I was taught as a 2nd LT. Maybe Rumsfeld should have listened more to his military leaders instead of believing he had all the answers.

Posted by: dave@ir-tech.com | October 8, 2009 8:57 AM
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Posted by: KraftPaper | October 8, 2009 7:54 AM
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Completely agree. I have been lucky enough to make a living outside the corporate world and every time I get around that environment I am amused and shocked at the amount of time wasted in endless, pointless meetings, most of which seem to slow down any process to a crawl.

To me a company that has excessive meetings is a company with all the signs that is being lead by mediocre, untalented insecure people. Corporate folks tend to be very "sheepish" about this and it seems every corporate meeting I ever had to go to is more like a "blame check" or "pass the ball" or "I have nothing but I'll say anything" game of sorts. The comedy show "The Office" has it down perfectly.

Posted by: Mighty7 | October 8, 2009 7:52 AM
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No, quality meetings should be held often. Poor consultation skills is what cost Rumsfeld the war. Just think a little bit before you write this stuff.

Posted by: 2nd_opinion | October 8, 2009 7:30 AM
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