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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Meetings .... the right way

Marketing guru Seth Godin reports on the challenges of bad meetings. I would like to introduce him to consultant Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company, and Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario Contractors' Association, who both know how to hold good meetings.

Thurston, Caswell, and Godin don't know each other (at least yet), but the lessons I've learned about meetings in the last year -- and enhanced this weekend -- show how truly useful and powerful good meetings can be.

Bad meetings; you know them; the time-wasting exercises in boring presentations,ego-strutting, or time-filling to justify some kind of corporate or personal agenda -- meetings stamped with routine and ritual, and hours of time that could be otherwise spent on much more useful work (or pleasure).

I had such aversion to bad meetings I set a business policy never to have them, except on the rarest occasions. This is a practice that Bill Caswell says is just plain wrong. In fact, he believes well-executed meetings are vital to business cohesion, success, and achievement. The challenge is to ensure the meetings are well executed.

Caswell says there are different types of meetings. Regular business meetings should be short (no longer than one hour), with a clear agenda, minutes, and a set out procedure for speaking order and recognition. He believes these regular meetings should incorporate the work group and be held with at least weekly frequency. The meetings always start on time, and distractions or interruptions are banned. Courtesy and respect for everyone is a cornerstone; no one can monopolize the discussion, and everyone is invited to participate in discussing agenda items.

Planning and conceptual meetings -- the 'big picture' type things, can last several hours or for major exercises an entire day. These meetings require more planning and co-ordination, but can be vital in setting the business course.

This weekend, I used the OGCA conference as the venue to introduce our two new sales representatives to each other. We had a meeting lasting less than an hour. My two new representatives agreed that a full-day planning meeting is vital, so (despite the significant cost) I agreed to retain Bill Caswell to help set it up. This will be the second full-scale planning meeting with him -- I think after this go-around, we will have enough systemic knowledge to do it ourselves.

On another scale, the OGCA symposium is a classic example of how to set upa meeting on a truly large scale. Some conferences are boring, others are ritualistic affairs; the OGCA instead found the formula mixing practical education and networking (along with some entertainment and rest) in a well-organized and (thanks to sponsorships) truly inexpensive package.

We gathered lots of news for our newspapers; and met previous, current, and potential clients (and as noted above, had the opportunity for an internal business meeting). Perhaps the best moment of the conference occurred when, a s I was walking back to my hotel room. A horn beeped. I looked, but could not recognize the person. She said "Hi Mark" and identified herself -- she had been working with one of my new sales reps and plans to advertise in the next issue of our Ontario papers. She recognized me from the photo on our electronic newsletter.

Good meetings, I believe, may reflect and mirror a business and its potential. Reviewing meeting practices and fixing the problems of bad meetings may, in fact, resolve many other business difficulties.

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