Leveraging Fortune 500 Meeting Behaviors

I’ve heard it said that most of an executive’s work is done in meetings.  In fact, many executives I’ve worked with spend the preponderance of their day in meetings, leaving little time for anything else.

Because so much time is spent in meetings, making the concerted effort to ensure we have effective meeting practices in place is a good investment and is completely within the control of the organization’s leadership.   When reviewing the meeting behaviors in their organization leaders can borrow from common meeting behaviors prevalent in many Fortune 500 companies.

I like to ask my clients what behaviors they would expect and not expect to see if they were observing the executive team of a Fortune 100 company as they participate in a meeting.   Typical responses include:

  1. Everyone would know the purpose of the meeting and arrive prepared. No one would offer any excuses for not being prepared.
  2. Electronic devices would be off during the meeting (except for those used by individuals presenting or serving as recorders). There’s no such thing as multi-tasking during a meeting.  We just aren’t wired to listen to dialogue, pay attention to the body language of not only the speaker – but other team members, and observe and participate in an interchange, while checking our EMAIL or sending a text.  When we’re engaged in other activities, we have temporarily tuned out to what’s going on in the meeting.
  3. The meeting would start and end on time. Time has a value in every organization.  I have found in some organizations an effective approach is to calculate the “cost” of each meeting.
  4. There would be no sidebar conversations and people wouldn’t interrupt each other. People at this level have a low tolerance for rudeness.
  5. People could disagree without being disagreeable. In fact there would be the expectation that team members would see issues differently.
  6. There would be no personal attacks. These are people who’ve learned to work together and who respect each other.  They would critique ideas, not people.
  7. They would have an established process for reigning in conversations that were not pertinent to the topic at hand. One that is popular is the “Three Knock Rule.”  When someone goes off topic or gets lost in the weeds any other team member can quietly knock on the table three times.  Because the whole team has agreed to this signal there are no hard feelings when it’s enacted.
  8. They would achieve what they came to the meeting to accomplish. They’d be focused on achieving the results and not on grandstanding.
  9. They would expect every meeting to have an agenda, a record of important decisions, and an action item list. Fulfilling these basic expectations is what allows a team to make progress and not have to go over the same information in subsequent meetings.

There are dozens more expectations teams list when doing this exercise, but these are the most common.  Because this discussion is framed as a theoretical case even the most dysfunctional team can have this discussion and take the next step of defining and adopting a set of behavioral rules that will serve them.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.