Why Does a Meeting Need Buckets?

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.”)

6 Replies to “Why Does a Meeting Need Buckets?”

  1. Status meetings are a dread. I know managers that believe that in this way they will synchronize between their team members, but this happens rarely. Try computing the cost of those meetings and then think about the benefits…
    But even one-on-one status meetings need some form. I request of each team member to prepare each week before the meeting one page outlining:
    1. Tasks done last week, marking which ended, which require additional work and a list of open issues.
    2. Task planned to be done next week.
    I found out that the preparation in itself helps each team member to better organize his work and improve his estimations, the meeting itself is shorter and more effective and I have a clear vision of the progress.

  2. Johanna, I agree with your comments, however I have attended several meetings recently (mostly about short term future direction) with influential senior managers who could have really taken a leading role – but were sidetracked by their Blackberrys or laptops. The content of the meetings was very engaging and I could have benefitted from their experience and input much more with their wholehearted attention.

    I think that some senior managers and executives are almost expected to respond to their communications in real time – possibly making them less than 100% effective in circumstances like these.

  3. The serial status meeting saves the managers’ time (in their view) and most of them don’t really care about wasting the time of their subordinates. Both time saving and time wasting are especially prevalent where several subordinates are working on independent projects and the manager must report status on all of them at a similar meeting with his or her management, and so on up the line.
    In my experience, managers are not often problem solvers, nor are they action item oriented. Too many managers are administrators cum water carriers. Serial status meetings are part of their culture. They shy away from one-on-one contact as this can be threatening. Therefore, isolating one factor, such as status meetings, for change, will not make them any more effective as managers. Meetings are a tool that managers can use effectively. But if they don’t know how to manage changing the tool set won’t help and may actually harm the organization.

  4. Buckets are good representations of what need not be in the room. Getting rid of the tools that the people need is not a good idea. Status meetings in general are a bad thing. They are a monumental waste of time. We don’t have enough time for ritual if we are to deliver on time and perfect (the only the customer ever really wants).
    If you have to have a meeting like this, make sure you specify the exact time it will start (and then start it on time), what will be covered, what and who has to present, time out the whole thing and know exactly what time it will end (and again, end it when it’s time no matter what). Make people be effective, set the expectation for preparation and execution and your people will follow. If they don’t, have that one on one and figure out how to get it right.

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