Are You Running Great Meetings?

April 7, 2010

As a venture capital firm that also provides value-add consulting services to our portfolio companies, we are continually looking for ways that expansion stage companies can apply “the best” of best practices methodologies used by more established organizations. We are mindful, though, that best practices that might make sense for a leading edge Fortune 500 organization may not always be the best approach for a lean and young early stage company.

That’s why it’s always great to find a clip like this, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, featuring the CEO of American Express, Ken Chenault, as he discusses how he runs meetings. His advice is as relevant to a Fortune 500 CEO, as to an expansion stage manager.

First, Ken believes that every meeting should have a clear objective up front, that the participants should all have a clear understanding of what their behavior should be prior to the meeting, and each participant should have accountability for their role. As Ken says, there should be no “empty” participants.

Ken also believes that there are three types of meetings. Perhaps keeping these buckets in mind will help all of us both manage and participate more effectively in meetings.

1. Broad strategy discussion.  In these meetings, a resolution isn’t necessarily expected. This is a meeting to air opinions and viewpoints. Participants are expected to have an opinion and express it. For an expansion stage company, perhaps think of this type of meeting as an executive strategy session, with a lot of great minds brainstorming in an open discussion.
2. Determine specific course of action. In this sort of meeting, participants are expected to come prepared with a viewpoint and are accountable for a recommendation. For an expansion stage company, this type of meeting might be one where a particularly troublesome customer situation needs to be discussed by different members of the management team who may have different viewpoints (product, sales or finance), but ultimately a decision about how to correct the situation must be made, and an action plan determined.
3. Constructive confrontation.This meeting is to constructively debate specific concerns and issues, with clear ground rules for debate. At the end of this meeting, dissenting viewpoints have been aired and debated, and whether or not the attendees all agree with the outcome, a course of action is decided, supported and committed to by all participants. Expansion stage management teams often try to avoid constructive confrontation, but these meetings are also important. How often do we hear of members of management teams that don’t support a CEO’s decision, don’t commit to the decision and make their views known to other employees, yet the CEO never constructively confronts that manager about their viewpoint (which could quite possibly be a very valid viewpoint) or elicits their support?
You may want to check out this video for yourself! I know I learned some valuable tips from it.