We all say it: business meetings are a waste of time. So why do we still have them? Why do we attend them? (Many, of course, have no choice if the boss requires it.) Ask yourself: when is the last time you attended a meeting where truly innovative inspiration took place? For me, I can't think of a meeting-ever-(at least the traditional kind) where anything innovative happened. But I can think of particular conversations that changed everything, from the direction of a project, to the people working on an initiative, to well...my life.
I remember a conversation with Vivienne Cox, Group Executive VP of BP (which has 100K employees worldwide), and a member of the rarified inner circle at BP called the BP Group Chief Executives. She is one of the most impressive business leaders I know. I was introduced to Vivienne by Helen Alexander, the highly regarded CEO of The Economist Group (yes, the people who among other things publish The Economist). Helen told me that Vivienne and I have a lot in common, especially our belief that conversation can be employed as a powerfully strategic business tool. When she mentioned Vivienne's office "doesn't look like an office...more like a comfortable living room" I knew I had to talk with her.
Vivienne is, as promised, insightful, wise and powerful. She told me she's frustrated with meetings, feels they're designed so that people act "not themselves". She loathes windowless rooms with flip charts, feels meetings held in them are always unproductive and that people say they have action plans but nothing gets done. She feels that to get to the level of meaningful commitment to a project worth undertaking, one needs to foster understanding that comes from deep connection. So she shifted the way she interacts with people in business. She has ruled out meetings around tables. Instead, she invites people to sit on sofas in her specially designed "non-office", more like a living room, and talk...no flip charts, no Power Point presentations. Spends lots of time talking about the need for honest (read "authentic") conversation. Good, honest conversation. I've been told by numerous people that she knows how to get things done and that people love to work with her. Is there a lesson here?