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Friday, January 25, 2008

The weekly meetings

This image is from the new Caswell Corporate Coaching Company (CCC) website. CCC is our primary business consultant.
Our business has two weekly regular meetings. On Monday, right after lunch, we bring everyone together (remote employees participate by teleconference) for a weekly general meeting. On Thursday afternoon, near the end of the day, our salespeople gather to review progress and plan for the weeks ahead.

These meetings are now routine. But they are a crucial element in the business turn-around, since consultant Bill Caswell began working with us a little less than two years ago. He showed me that regular meetings are vital for business success and he outlined a meeting system and format that has proven reliable and effective in practice.

Meetings, for many people, are the bane of business. Overly long, boring, packed with irrelevant material and political posturing, many of us want to avoid them. In fact, I did, to the point that our business in its original incarnation had no regular meetings -- we would sometimes gather for a special crisis or to discuss a specific topic/issue, but the idea of getting together every week -- let alone twice a week -- seemed an utter waste of time and resources.

Caswell, however, showed me that meetings are vital to integrate staff, generate ideas, and catch problems before they get out of hand.

Caswell's meeting system includes these elements:
  • Before any meeting, everyone receives an agenda. Participants are invited to add topics and suggest revisions;
  • Regular meetings never last more than one hour (and the agenda is defined accordingly). If more complex issues need to be resolved with another meeting, this is set up within the framework of the general meeting -- in practice, this happens rarely;
  • Everyone is given the opportunity to speak/participate, and order is maintained through a speaking order system initiated at the beginning.
  • Minutes are taken, recorded, and returned after each meeting;
  • A written action plan outlining clear responsibilities and time lines is appended to each week's meeting agenda; one of the topics of each meeting is to review the plan and suggest/respond to changes.
  • Meetings start and end on time (or sooner, if possible). We avoid interruptions and distractions.
When we started the meetings, our biggest challenge proved to be establishing a reliable teleconferencing capacity so we could hear each other and remote participants could join in as equals. While the teleconference system we use is not perfect (and I won't endorse it publicly, therefore), everyone is able to join in and participate, including myself, when I am traveling. Thus we rarely cancel or reschedule the weekly meetings. They are a vital part of our business.

If you have unproductive meetings, or don't have a systematic meeting system, I recommend you call Bill Caswell and pay for his advice.

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