Want better meetings? Get rid of noise, toys and spectators

Want better meetings? Get rid of noise, toys and spectators

Here are some bold measures our clients use to stay on task during meetings.

  • min read


Want better meetings? Get rid of noise, toys and spectators

Meetings. No company can live without them, but it sure is hard to live with them. Maybe that’s why our clients have come up with so many tips for breaking through the usual meeting logjams.

Here’s the background: In an earlier article, we noted the sorry fact that 85% of managers think their companies’ meetings are unproductive, and we outlined some ideas for improving them.

Then our clients chimed in. They said big ideas are good, but sometimes a practical reminder is all you need to focus. A question here, a symbol there, a poster on the wall—anything can work if it helps meeting participants remember that their job is not to natter on or nod off but to make decisions and take action. Here are some of the bold measures they use to stay on task:

  1. BlackBerry bags. Two companies ask participants to put their BlackBerrys and other mobile devices in a bag. The meeting organizer collects them at the beginning of the meeting and distributes them at the end. The simple point: We’re here to focus on decisions, not what’s happening in the outside world.
  2. Sacred symbols. One company puts a foot-high statue of an elephant in the middle of the conference table. The moral: When you’re discussing a decision, don’t ignore uncomfortable issues that might resurface later. Another places a carved wooden hippo on the table for the first part of the meeting, when the purpose is to wallow in ideas. When it comes time for a decision, the leader removes the hippo: No more wallowing.
  3. Stand-up sessions. Plenty of companies have short stand-up meetings at the start of a day, usually to review the status of projects. As for the longer meetings—aaah, those comfy conference room chairs, just the place to relax for a while. A suggestion: Try having fewer chairs than participants (or no chairs at all) when you get together to make a decision. You’ll be amazed how quickly people come to closure.
  4. Regular “role calls.” We’re fans of the decision tool RAPID®, which helps companies assign decision roles to particular individuals. (RAPID is a loose acronym for the key roles: Recommend, Input, Agree, Decide and Perform.) At the beginning of a meeting, ask each person what role he or she is playing in the decisions at hand. No role? Sorry, you’re in the wrong meeting. Also, if senior people habitually send delegates when the leaders themselves should be there, ask the delegates to leave. It might hurt, but it will get attention— and it may get the senior people there next time.
  5. Do-over denials. Are too many meetings devoted to revisiting previous decisions? Just say no. One client recommends refusing to reconsider a decision unless there’s a very good reason for doing so. A side benefit is that people will make sure they attend important meetings, knowing they can’t reopen the discussion next week.

The most successful companies, we’ve noticed, aren’t too heavy-handed. They rely on nudges and suggestions to make their point. These techniques work because most people want to do the right thing. They just need reminders.

And what about your company? How does your organization manage the practical task of keeping meetings focused on decisions and action? Send your ideas and best practices to

Paul Rogers is the managing partner of Bain’s London office and leads Bain’s Global Organization practice. Jenny Davis-Peccoud is the senior director of Bain’s Global Organization practice. She is based in London.

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