Editorial: The great meeting drain

May 03, 2013

Stop holding so many of them and get back to work, Mark Zweig writes. We’ve got a HUGE problem in the A/E/P and environmental business. And it’s one we can solve easily. I’m talking about meetings. Meetings are one of the biggest time-wasting activities people working in A/E firms engage in. It seems to me that no matter what the situation or issue is a firm is grappling with; the first response is to call a meeting. Why is that? Aren’t there other ways to accomplish the same (or better) results? How about a quick email asking the relevant parties for their input? How about picking up the phone and calling someone? Or how about individualized training instead of big group sessions? And why so many regularly scheduled meetings – especially early in the week? They suck the lifeforce out of you. The weekly marketing meetings, for example, are usually a horrible waste of time. Way too many people attend and then sit there, eating their glazed donuts while their eyes develop a similar glaze as two attendees discuss a specific proposal. “Go do that later – I’m busy!” is what I’m thinking (and undoubtedly others feel the same). Most of what goes on in these meetings would be better left to email. Unless the meetings are devoted to creative brainstorming they are probably a big waste of time. They go on too long and involve too many people. The board meetings most privately held firms have are another big time-waster. First and foremost: Why do we spend so much time reviewing the past? Send the financials out ahead of time and ask if there are any questions. If not, move on, quickly! Why would you want to waste the time of your most expensive internal people – and in some cases, highly paid outside advisors – to review historical financials? I don’t get it. Another way BOD meetings go off-course is the agenda. Most of ’em in this business are way too operational in nature. That happens because the BOD meets too often and includes all of the operational managers so it becomes the de facto ops meeting. Shrink it down. Meet once a quarter. Keep the meetings short. Have a tight agenda. Common sense stuff. Then there are the big staff “training” meetings. These things are another huge time-waster. The professional development people decide everyone needs “training.” Then they try to decide what kind of training to give everyone. A small group of 20 or 40 managers and rising stars are picked to participate. Then two days are devoted to studying “Who Moved My Cheese?” or “The One-Minute Manager.” After lost revenue, lunches, and consultant/trainer costs are factored in, the whole thing cost the firm $50K. $50K spent with little thought, I might add. All I ask of you is to think about all the meetings you have and decide if they are absolutely necessary. If not, stop holding them and get back to work! Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310) Issue # 1006 Originally published 5/6/2013. Copyright© 2013, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.