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PHIL HARDWICK — How to keep your meetings flowing


Dear Phil:

Your column about the role of business elicited quite a bit of commentary in our organization. Would you be kind enough to expound a little further and perhaps suggest a format for discussing the issue, especially at a staff meeting?

Bob M., Ridgeland

Dear Phil:

Do you have any suggestions about productive staff meetings? We don’t want to eliminate  them, but we seem to be stuck doing the same things at every meeting.

Sandra W., Columbus

Good questions. My first thought when I read those two emails was “convergence.” That’s the term used to describe two things coming together to one point. Think of your eyes, for example. They are a few inches apart but they converge on one point when you focus on something. Convergence is a term used frequently these days in business articles and in company memos.  News organizations, for example, are consolidating separate divisions, such as reporters and IT, into one reporting structure. The European Union is about converging economic and tax policies into a common system. The rise of the independent contractor and the need to cut employee costs have converged so that layoffs are more common. Thus, the role of business and staff meetings were the two points of convergence.

With convergence in mind, I present two suggestions for future staff meetings. The first provides a way for those in attendance at the meeting to discuss the role of business. It can be used with management or employee staff meetings. The second suggestion offers a way for those in attendance to feel more involved in the meeting.

In the first instance, divide those in attendance into four groups and ask them to discuss the question: “What should be the primary focus of our business?” Group 1 is to take the position that our customers should be the primary focus. Group 2 is to take the position that our employees should be the primary focus. Group 3 is to take the position that our product or service should be our primary focus. Group 4 is to propound that our stockholders/owners should be the primary focus.

Mention that all of these stakeholders are important and none are not to be neglected. Also, point out that there is no correct answer, only the most appropriate answer for the organization. To illustrate, Amazon is primarily a customer-focused organization. LaptopScreen.com, “…an established worldwide trader of laptop screens (notebook computer screens),” states on its website that “… our primary focus is customer service.”   On the Dean Foods’ website can be found this statement: “The Company’s primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.”

The time for group discussion is flexible, depending on how deep you want to get into these subjects. It could be only 15 minutes, which would allow for groups to be spontaneous with their thoughts and ideas. It might even be overnight or weeklong so that there would be time for research and in-depth group discussion.

I am partial to breakout group activities such as this for two reasons. First, it forces someone to argue for a position that they might not personally believe. Thus, it has them looking at other points of view. This is important in today’s divisive society where people segregate themselves to others who have the same beliefs. For those who have the idea that they should not listen to the other side because they know the other side is wrong, it forces them to be on the other side. Second, breakout groups give individuals who are reluctant to share their thoughts in front of a larger group a comfortable space with a smaller group.

The second staff meeting suggestion is to select a business book and have a staff member lead a discussion of each chapter. Let’s say you selected the iconic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Although it has been around for a long time, it was Amazon’s Prime’s most borrowed book in the 2019 Business and Investing category. Each week a different employee would lead a discussion on a different habit. Now you have seven staff meetings all planned.

Here’s to engaged and productive staff meetings.

»  PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is phil@philhardwick.com.


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