I've been working with managers of varying stripes, and a middle manager was proudly explaining how he deals with getting people's attention at meetings. “I get a big bucket and put it on a chair next to the door. Everyone dumps their cell phones or Blackberries or pagers in the bucket. It's kind of like going through security at the airport.” He chuckled. Well, I do understand wanting to capture and maintain the attention of everyone in the room. But making people give up their tools seems a little nuts to me. I asked him about laptops. “Oh, no. They're not allowed.” I knew he could improve his meetings.
I asked what he discussed at his meetings. “Oh, what everyone is doing.” How long are the meetings? “One to two hours.” Oh my. There is a better way.
I told him to cancel his next meeting and conduct one-on-ones with his managers instead if he needed to see status. I also told him it was worth deciding which problems he would try to solve in a group meeting. He's got too many managers, so he can't address everyone's problems in one meeting–and shouldn't. He needs to have meetings with the relevant people, make sure people discuss and develop an action plan with action items.
If you're in a similar pickle, thinking you need status meetings, you can reset that thinking right now. Status meetings are not meetings; they are rituals. If your attendees would prefer your ritual meetings with doughnuts or wine or their laptops or cell phones or something else that distracts them from your meeting, it's time to reconstitute your meeting.
Make your meetings events to solve problems and assign next steps. When you have meetings like that, you do not need buckets at the door. You'll get done faster, which will help people get to their next meeting on time. (For more information, see chapter 10 in Manage It!, called “Managing Meetings.”)