A recent article in the New York Times business section, “You’re the Boss: the art of running a small business”, by Paul Downs, “The Comment That Changed My Business” spoke of this owner’s experience with holding weekly meetings with his employees. In the 24 year history of this company, they had never held regular employee meetings. Mr. Downs reported on how successful these now are for him.
His story reminded me of my own experiences with meetings. Here is one that is germane to Mr. Downs’ story.
I used Stand Up Meetings for staff.
In my first use in a Inside Sales/ Engineering Support department with sixty people on staff, I met every day at 8am sharp. Six managers plus the office manager attended. The rules were:
- everyone stands up, no leaning on walls
- rotating chair of the meeting amongst the managers
- if you can’t attend, your backup from your group will attend
- no status reporting
- only critical situations requiring help are discussed
- you are expected to seek out help in advance of the meeting
- request for help must specify who is responsible, what needs to get done, when it it needs to be completed, and the required results
These meetings generally lasted ten minutes or less. Standing up reinforced the brevity and focused attention on getting to the important. The rule requiring seeking help in advance encouraged people to network around the organization, including other departments. The rotating chair gave everyone more experience leading meetings and meant that when I was called away by my bosses (this happened at least once a week), the meeting went ahead.
After a couple of days of shake down, everyone came to really like this format, everyone excepting those who had been struggling to be at work at 8 am sharp. The meeting gave each manager an opportunity to get help they needed and improved their sense that they were in control of a frequently hectic environment.
A side benefit of this meeting that I discovered was that it tended to jump start the day. If you needed to settle in and get your bearings at the beginning of the day (and who doesn’t), you had to arrive a bit earlier. The meeting and the active discussion of business began at 8 am sharp every day.
I found that I had to demonstrate my own focus around the purpose of the meeting. Early on I found myself interjecting little requests of various managers about issues that I needed to take up with them. For example, “Patricia, see me at the end of the meeting to talk about the balancing of the telephone loads in your group.” This kind of off point talk from me lead to others doing the same thing. This lead to longer meetings and got the focus off the critical issues of the day.