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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

The $2,000 Meeting

Meetings are necessary, but they need to have a purpose. My primary rule for attending a meeting is that decisions need to be made and I am the only one that can make them. I do have meetings to prep for those decision-making meetings, but those are normally one-on-one or with just a few people.

The only other time I feel meetings are important is when a group needs to get together, such as from different departments or organizations, to get to know one another and understand each other's perspective. Those meetings need a facilitator, and while they are rarely decision-oriented, they do have positive outcomes in relationship building or organizational performance.

And for all meetings, materials should be sent ahead of time so people get up to speed prior to the meeting and not during it.

One strategy that can work well for meetings is to calculate what the meeting costs in terms of the people involved and the billing rates of employees. Approximating the rate is more important than coming up with actual numbers. It's eye-opening if 10 people meet for two hours with an average bill rate of $100 per hour. At the end of the meeting the question should be asked, "Was that meeting worth $2,000?" Over time, people will be more sensitive to making sure the right people are in the room and that the meeting is run effectively and efficiently.

Leaders need to make sure they set the vision and tone of an organization. But if a leader makes too many appearances at meetings, the staff members won't feel empowered. Or they may feel that if something happens to that leader, the organization can't carry on effectively without them. In my opinion, that is the true calling of every leader: to develop others and build a team that is succeeding even when they are not there.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  October 6, 2009; 3:17 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Golden Rule of Meetings | Next: A Bad Rap


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Other than team-building (useful) and ego-boosting(not so useful) there are two main purposes for meetings - reporting/decision-making (for which written reports should have been circulated by a certain date - everyone reads and comes ready to comment; any additional reporting at the meeting should be late-breaking news) and "working meetings" where you are hashing out new strategies and making plans (the coordinator should have sent around a summary of needs and attendees come prepared to offer what their section/department/company can offer). Neither meeting should last more than an hour - if it takes more time, it usually means the groundwork was inadequate, or the scope of the meeting was too broadly defined.

I waste too much time going to meetings that are "announcements" - everything in these meeting could have been sent by email, since my input is not really required. Unfortunately, policy requires that I attend these regular meetings rather than read the announcements in 1/10 the time (at a more convenient time, also, since the meetings are at prime time).

However, I work in a field where efficiency is not always valued, so my time is not considered important. It's also in a field supported by taxes - if it were a commercial business, I suspect its priorities would be different.

Posted by: drmary | October 7, 2009 10:02 PM
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I agree that a huge majority of meetings are held, to meet. These meetings are usually quickly identified by the lack of decision making and the willingness to meet again. These meetings should be avoided like the plague. However, if you have a team that works in diverse locations, there is no replacement for a face to face meeting, it bonds the team and ensures that at least for that hour, no one is trying to listen to the meeting while performing six other tasks.

Posted by: kawilson69 | October 7, 2009 7:53 PM
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Having spent forty years in the work place, half in government, and half working in firms that worked for government, my experience was that the vast majority of meetings were a waste of time.

So many of them were called simply because the convener could convene a meeting if he or she wanted to. It was comforting for the convener to look out over the sea of faces and savor all the power. The agenda was seldom tightly conrolled and lots of time was wasted. Worst aspect of these meetings: discussion of action items, with no followup on accomplishments.

Once I became a CEO, I tried to limit meetings of every time to essential gatherings needed to gather or disseminate information. Any meeting I chaired started exactly when I said it would, and if you didn't arrive a) on time and b) with something in your hand to write with and take notes you were barred. And at the beginning of every meeting, I announced how long we had to talk, and we were not going to stay longer.

I found that if you showed respect for the value of your employee's time, you reaped a big dividend. We did.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | October 7, 2009 2:32 AM
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I am a huge proponent of productivity. System efficiencies are only as good as your willing to make them seamless and can be effectively reproduced no matter what person is seated at a particular station.

So many meetings contribute mightily but can be streamlined, reduced and/or eliminated in many cases. I believe in communication but I would just as soon inspire my teammates, co-workers or colleagues in the written word.

In this way they can read 'my thoughts on paper' at their liking and a time which is best suited for them. Either way the impact of the message is not lost because it is natural people's minds wander about "I have this and that to do when I get back to work".

Meetings are not the highlights of any managers day for various reasons, I won't go into that here. Needless to say, lost time is rarely recovered and productivity is supposed to reduce costs not add to them. Have a good evening.

Posted by: jakesfriend1 | October 6, 2009 8:58 PM
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