brainroads-toward-tomorrows mental patterns


pyramid to dna

Executive tools: meetings

“Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.”

bbx Organization efforts: problems or opportunities

bbx The monthly meeting

bbx Executive responsibilities: decisions

bbx Brainstorming or creativity

bbx Try a Google site search for concepts, ideas, topics, tools etc.




Find “meetings” in The Effective Executive. You should find about 14 matches

The text under the “Make meetings productive” topic contains some specific suggestions:

The key to running an effective meeting is to decide in advance what kind of meeting it will be.

Different kinds of meetings require different forms of preparation and different results:

A meeting to prepare a statement, an announcement, or a press release.

For this to be productive, one member has to prepare a draft before hand.

At the meeting’s end, a pre-appointed member has to take responsibility for disseminating the final text.

A meeting to make an announcement—for example, an organizational change.

This meeting should be confined to the announcement and a discussion about it.

A meeting in which one member reports.

Nothing but the report should be discussed.

A meeting in which several or all members report.

Either there should be no discussion at all or the discussion should be limited to questions for clarification.

Alternatively, for each report there could be a short discussion in which all participants may ask questions.

If this is the format, the reports should be distributed to all participants well before the meeting.

At this kind of meeting, each report should be limited to a present time—for example, 15 minutes.

A meeting to inform the convening executive.

The executive should listen and ask questions.

He or she should sum up but not make a presentation.

A meeting whose only function is to allow the participants to be in the executive’s presence.

Cardinal Spellman’s breakfast and dinner meetings were of that kind.

There is no way to make these meetings productive.

They are the penalties of rank.

Senior executives are effective to the extent to which they can prevent such meetings from encroaching on their workdays.

Spellman, for instance, was effective in large part because he confined such meetings to breakfast and dinner and kept the rest of his working day free of them.

Making a meeting productive takes a good deal of self-discipline.

It requires that executives determine what kind of meeting is appropriate and then stick to that format.

It’s also necessary to terminate the meeting as soon as its specific purpose has been accomplished.

Good executives don’t raise another matter for discussion.

They sum up and adjourn.

Good follow-up is just as important as the meeting itself.

The great master of follow-up was Alfred Sloan, the most effective business executive I have ever known




There is more info on the Alfred Sloan meetings in Adventures of a Bystander

I am often asked whether I know of a perfect “management tool.”

The answer is, “Yes:

Alfred Sloan’s hearing aid.”

He was hard of hearing and had been so for many years.

He had an old-fashioned hearing aid with heavy batteries hanging down his chest and a big trumpet on one ear.

It had to be switched off before the wearer could talk, otherwise the roar blasted the wearer but also garbled his voice.

Sloan had an amplifier built into the switch.

When he turned it so as to be able to speak, it sounded like the crack of doom and everybody in the room stopped talking immediately.

But it was the only way in which he dominated a meeting, and he never used it until everybody else had had his say.

As I sat in more GM meetings with Sloan, I began to notice something else in addition to his emphasis on people and his treatment of them:

his way of making decisions.

I think I noticed it first in the heated discussions about the postwar capacity of GM’s accessory divisions.

One group in GM management argued stridently and with lots of figures that accessory capacity should be expanded.

Another group, equally strident, argued in favor of keeping it low.

Sloan listened for a long time without saying anything.

Then he turned off his hearing aid and said, “What is this decision really about?

Is it about accessory capacity?

Or is it about the future shape of the American automobile industry?

You,” and he turned to the most vocal advocate of accessory expansion, “argue that we need to be able to supply independent automobile manufacturers with accessories they cannot make, and that this is our most profitable business—and so it has always been.

And you,” turning to an opponent of accessory expansion, “argue that we need to confine our capacity to what our own automotive divisions and our dealers in the automotive aftermarket need.

It seems to me that you argue over the future of the automobile industry in this country and not about the accessory business, do you agree?

Well then,” said Sloan, “we all agree that we aren’t likely to sell a lot of GM accessories to our big competitors, to Chrysler and Ford.

Do we know whether to expect the independents—Studebaker, Hudson, Packard, Nash, Willys—to grow and why?

I take it we are confident that they will give us their business if they have any to give.”

“But Mr. Sloan,” said the proponent of accessory expansion, “we assume that automobile demand will be growing, and then the independents will surely do well.”

“Sounds plausible to me,” said Sloan, “but have we tested the assumption?

If not, let’s do so.”

A month later the study came in, and to everybody’s surprise it showed that small independents did poorly and were being gobbled up by the big companies in times of rapidly growing automobile demand, and that they only did well in times of fairly stable replacement demand and slow market growth.

“So now,” Sloan said, “the question is really whether we can expect fast automobile growth, once we have supplied the deficiencies the war has created, or slow growth.

Do we know what new automobile demand depends on?’

“Yes, we do know, Mr. Sloan,” someone said; “demand for new automobiles is a direct function of the number of young people who reach the age of the first driver’s license, buy an old jalopy, and thereby create demand for new cars among the older and wealthier population.”

“Just so,” said Sloan—“we learned that twenty years ago.

And what do population figures look like five, ten, fifteen years out?”

And when it turned out that they showed a fairly rapid growth of the teen-age population for some ten years ahead, Sloan said:

“The facts have made the decision—and I was wrong.”

For then, and only then, did Sloan disclose that the proposal to increase accessory capacity had originally been his.

Sloan rarely made a decision by counting noses or by taking a vote.

He made it by creating understanding.

Once one of the staff vice presidents—I believe it was Paul Garrett of Public Relations—made a proposal for a major campaign.

Normally, any proposal of this kind evoked a good deal of discussion.

But Garrett’s proposal was so well prepared that everybody supported it; and it was also suspected that Sloan was heartily in its favor.

But when everybody thought the proposal had been agreed upon, the old man switched off his hearing aid and said, “I take it all you gentlemen are in favor?”

“Yes, Mr. Sloan,” the chorus came back.

“Then I move that we defer action on this for a month to give ourselves a chance to think”—and a month later the proposal was either scuttled or drastically revised.

And after every meeting, no matter how many he attended, he wrote a letter or a memorandum in which he identified the key question and asked:

“Is this what the decision is all about?”

Again I asked him once whether this didn’t take an awful lot of time.

“If a decision comes up to my level,” he said, “it had better take a lot of time.

If it doesn’t deserve it, we’ll throw it back.

We make very few decisions, Mr. Drucker; no one can make a great many and make them right.

But we’d better know what we are deciding and what the decision is all about.”




The Six Thinking Hats contains a process for rapidly moving a meeting topic forward. Find map

White Hat Thinking Japanese-Style Input

Discussion, argument and consensus.

If no one puts forward an idea, where do ideas come from?

Make the map first.

The Japanese never acquired the Western habit of argument.

It may be that disagreement was too impolite or too risky in a feudal society.

It may be that mutual respect and saving face are too important to allow the attack of argument.

It may be that Japanese culture is not ego-based like Western culture: argument often has a strong ego base.

The most likely explanation is that Japanese culture was not influenced by those Greek thinking idioms which were refined and developed by medieval monks as a means of proving heretics to be wrong.

It seems odd to us that they do not argue.

It seems odd to them that we cherish argument.

At a Western-style meeting the participants sit there with their points of view and in many cases the conclusion they wish to see agreed upon.

The meeting then consists of arguing through these different points of view to see which one survives the criticism and which one attracts the most adherents.

Modifications and improvements do take place in the initial ideas.

But it tends to be a matter of “marble sculpture,” that is to say starting with a broad block and then carving it down to the end product.

A Western-style consensus meeting is less fiercely argumentative because there are no outright winners or losers.

The output is one that is arrived at by everyone and agreeable to everyone.

This is more like “clay sculpture”: there is a core around which pieces of clay are placed and molded to give the final output.

Japanese meetings are not consensus meetings.

It is hard for Westerners to understand that Japanese participants sit down at a meeting without any preformed ideas in their heads.

The purpose of the meeting is to listen.

So why is there not a total and unproductive silence?

Because each participant in turn puts on the white hat and then proceeds to give his piece of neutral information.

Gradually the map gets more complete.

The map gets richer and more detailed.

When the map is finished the route becomes obvious to everyone.

I am not suggesting that this process takes place at just one meeting.

It may be stretched out over weeks and months with many meetings involved.

The point is that no one puts forward a ready-made idea.

Information is offered in white hat fashion.

This information slowly organizes itself into an idea.

The participants watch this happen.

The Western notion is that ideas should be hammered into shape by argument.

The Japanese notion is that ideas emerge as seedlings and are then nurtured and allowed to grow into shape.

The above is a somewhat idealized version of the contrast between Western argument and Japanese information input.

It is my intention here to make this contrast rather than to follow those who believe that everything Japanese is wonderful and should be emulated.

We cannot change cultures.

So we need some mechanism that will allow us to override our argument habits.

The white hat role does precisely this.

When used by everyone during a meeting, the white hat role can imply: “Let’s all play act being Japanese in a Japanese meeting.”

It is to make this sort of switch in a practical manner that we need artificial devices and idioms like the white thinking hat.

Exhortation and explanation have little practical value.

(I do not want to get into an explanation of why the Japanese are not more inventive.

Invention can require an ego-based culture with cantankerous individuals able to persist with an idea that seems mad to all around.

We can do it in a more practical manner with the deliberate provocations of lateral thinking, which I discuss elsewhere and also in the section on green hat thinking.)



Benefits of the Six Hats Method

In practice, one of the most striking things about the use of the Six Hats method is that decisions seem to make themselves.

When you come to the final blue hat, the decision is often obvious to everyone present.

This seems hard to believe in theory but happens very often in practice.

The week following a short write-up of the method in the Financial Times (London), I had a letter from a man who had been house hunting with his wife.

They could not decide whether or not to buy a large house in the country.

They had discussed the matter for some hours.

The man finally suggested they use the Hats, which he had read about briefly in the newspaper.

He wrote to tell me that within ten minutes they had their decision—which satisfied both of them.

To those who have never tried the method it may seem that the hats help you to fully explore a subject and that a specific decision or design stage should follow.

This view misses the point that certain hats—the red, yellow and black—are used for assessment, not just information.

If you have to drive to a certain destination and the people involved know the roads only vaguely, there will be a lot of argument about which road to take.

If, however, there is a road map laying out the roads, the traffic densities, and the nature of the road surface, then it is easy to choose the best road.

The choice has become obvious to all.

Exactly the same thing happens with the Six Hats method.

If it is not possible to make a decision, then the final blue hat should lay out why it is not possible.

There may be a need for more information at a certain point.

There may be different values that cannot be reconciled.

So the final blue hat can define a new thinking focus.

That new focus can then become the task of a new thinking session.

Also see How To Have A Beautiful Mind

Amazon links: The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Harperbusiness Essentials) and Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business (J-B Lencioni Series)

Little Black Book of Business Meetings (apparently out of print)

  • Notes
  • Introduction
  • For leaders
    • Your Internal Forum
      • The Purpose of Meetings
        • 1. Limited participation
        • 2. Specific agenda
        • 3. Time limits
        • 4. Control
        • 5. Alternatives
        • 6. Follow-up
      • Identifying the Meeting
        • Categories of meetings include the following
          • 1. Information meetings
          • 2. Problem-solving meetings
          • 3. Creative meetings
          • 4. Policy meeting
          • 5. Training meetings
          • 6. Recurring task meetings
          • 7. The general meeting
            • Common problems of general meetings
      • Myths About Participation
        • Myths Prevail About the Value and Significance of Participation in Meetings
          • The more people on the team, the better the team
          • Holding a lot of meetings means communication will improve
          • All you need to do is get people together and raise questions
          • Taking action is the leader's role
          • Meetings are valuable because they clear the air and result in consensus
          • As long as everyone has the chance to express a point of view, the meeting will be a success
      • Using Meetings Properly
      • Adopting an Action Strategy
        • 1. Who is responsible for solving this problem?
        • 2. How can the rest of us help?
        • 3. What course of action should be taken?
        • 4. What's the deadline?
      • Characteristics of Meetings
        • The Number of People
        • Topic
        • Frequency
        • Composition
        • Motivation
      • An Action Orientation
        • The Prestige and Influence Issue
        • How can you adopt an action motive?
          • 1. What contributes to the problem?
          • 2. Always look to the long term
          • 3. Look at issues from the other side
      • Work Project
    • Leading the Meeting: The Active Role
      • Achieving Desired Results
        • 1. Advance planning
        • 2. Leading the meeting
        • 3. Follow-up
      • Leadership Tools
        • Physical Environment
        • Materials
        • Agenda
          • 1. Title. Give the meeting a title
          • 2. Time and location
          • 3. Theme and definition
          • 4. Attendees
          • 5. Topics
      • The Tone of Your Meetings
        • Meetings are appropriate in these situations
          • 1. Problems are common to the group
          • 2. Information is needed in both directions
          • 3. Decisions are to be made collectively
          • 4. Responsibility is not clear
          • 5. The group wants to meet with you
        • Circumstances in which a meeting is not justified
          • 1. Issues require singular communication
          • 2. You don't have a specific agenda
          • 3. Issues should be discussed privately
          • 4. Another form of communication is better
          • 5. A decision has already been made
      • Active and Passive Leadership
        • 1. The organization and its objectives
        • 2. Departmental goals
        • 3. Individual priorities
        • 4. The team interest
      • The Premeeting
      • Work Project
    • The Invitation List
      • Who to Invite, and Why
        • For problem-solving meetings
        • For status meetings
        • For information meetings
        • For work meetings
      • Limiting the List
      • The Secondary Meeting
        • For those with limited involvement
          • 1. Hold a separate meeting
          • 2. Invite partial attendance
          • 3. Recommend a separate meeting
        • Balancing meeting time and work time
          • 1. Combine meetings
          • 2. Eliminate discussion by means of premeetings
          • Dealing with requests for a separate meeting
            • 1. What do you need to discuss?
            • 2. Why can't we cover it in the regular meeting?
            • 3. Who else should be in on the discussion?
        • Proper agenda conclusion
      • Evaluating the List
      • Suggesting Cutbacks
      • Invitation List Action Plan
      • Work Project
    • Staying in Control
      • Setting Ground Rules
        • 1. A preannounced agenda
        • 2. Verified attendance
        • 3. Uninterrupted meetings
        • 4. Adherence to the agenda
        • 5. Achievement of a specific result
        • 6. Identification of the meeting leader
        • Applying the Guidelines
      • Creating Participation
        • 1. How can I encourage others to participate more in the meeting?
        • 2. What topics are of special interest to specific members of the group …
        • 3. Do I enforce the rules so strictly that no one is willing to speak up?
      • Control Action Plan
        • 1. Establish guidelines and not rules
        • 2. Stay in touch with your attendees
        • 3. Always refer to the agenda to change the direction your meeting is taking
        • 4. Indicate start and stop times for your meeting elp
        • 5. Allow discussions to proceed away from your agenda when a secondary topic is urgent
        • 6. Verify attendance
        • 7. Encourage everyone at your meeting to add something of value
        • 8. Tactfully control participation during your meeting
        • 9. Review your leadership role critically
      • Work Project
    • Following Up: Unfinished Business
      • Getting Results From Meetings
        • 1. Lay the groundwork well before the meeting
        • 2. Make specific assignments
        • 3. Write it down and send it out
        • 4. Send copies to the right executives
        • 5. Follow up in person
        • 6. Ask for help
        • 7. Use the most dependable resources
      • The Need for Immediate Start-Up Action
      • Keeping Minutes
      • Reviewing at the Next Meeting
      • Delegating Assignments
        • 1. Identify responsibility
        • 2. Don't turn delegation around
        • 3. Ask attendees who should do the job
        • 4. Don't overload any one person
        • 5. Beware of the silent attendee
        • 6. Acknowledge a job well done
      • Upward Delegation
      • Follow-Up Action Plan
      • Work Project
    • Politics for Leaders
      • Participation: the Theory
        • Benefits of Participation
          • 1. Involvement
          • 2. Communication
      • Participation in Practice
        • Guidelines
          • 1. Remind the group of their purpose
          • 2. Identify the person with primary responsibility to act
          • 3. Make a distinction between blame and responsibility
          • 4. An absent person is "responsible." Not
        • Participation Through Quality Circles
          • Most important among these guidelines are
            • 1. Common interest
            • 2. Voluntary basis
            • 3. Specific, defined projects
            • 4. Clear leadership
          • These guidelines make meetings work
      • Solutions to the Team Problem
      • Political Action Steps
      • Work Project
  • Participation
    • Time: Managed or Wasted
      • The Action Approach
      • Overcoming Meeting Flaws
      • Defining Time Priorities
        • 1. Keep the focus narrow
        • 2. Use the argument of time
        • 3. Keep follow-up notes
        • 4. Don't add to the agenda
        • 5. Stop on time
      • Constructing the Agenda
        • 1. Organization
        • 2. Preparation
        • 3. Time management
        • 4. Continuity
      • Limiting Meeting Frequency
        • Methods to reduce time in meetings
          • 1. Replacing with less formal modes of communication
          • 2. Holding certain meetings less frequently
          • 3. Dealing with some problems between department managers
        • Avoid making these mistakes
          • 1. Feeling obligated
          • 2. Adding to the problem
          • 3. Failing to ask for definition
      • Summary
      • Work Project
    • Attendees: Before You Show Up
      • Preparation Tips
        • 1. Get a copy of the agenda
        • 2. Decide what is applicable
        • 3. Formulate a position
        • 4. Develop proof
        • 5. Address the question of profits
        • 6. Plan for conflict
        • 7. Develop a back-up position
        • 8. Review and modify
      • Differing Agendas
        • 1. Never present just one side
        • 2. Always expect disagreement
        • 3. Deal with conflict calmly
        • 4. Confront issues and not people
        • 5. Work around closed minds
      • The Important Premeeting
        • Possible outcomes
          • 1. Complete disagreement
          • 2. Agreement with qualifications
          • 3. Acceptance
        • Points to keep in mind
          • 1. Being right is your best asset
          • 2. Dissent can help your case
          • 3. Conflict is no threat to thoughtful ideas
          • 4. Weak positions are self-destructive
          • Summary
      • Lining Up Support
        • A meeting could be inappropriate to your purposes for several reasons
          • 1. Wrong agenda
          • 2. Consideration of the meeting leader
          • 3. Nature of the issue
      • Anticipating Conflicts
      • Expressing Your Ideas
        • Adding your topics to the agenda
        • Determining an issue's effect
          • 1. How does this affect my department?
          • 2. What is the effect on the organization?
          • 3. What is the effect on me?
        • Summary & transition to next chapter
      • Work Project
    • Defining Attendee Participation
      • Fear of Speaking Out
        • Conquering fears to be able to make a difference
          • 1. Fear of conflict
          • 2. Fear of attention
        • Strategies for participating
          • 1. Define participation
          • 2. Be prepared to offer an opinion
          • 3. Use the chain of command
      • The Freedom to Speak Out
        • Can you speak freely in a meeting?
        • The freedom to speak out exists on many levels
          • 1. Your immediate supervisor
          • 2. Fellow managers
          • 3. Adversaries
          • Never overlook the fact that the freedom to speak extends beyond the meeting
      • The Summarized Presentation
      • Debate Etiquette
      • Action Steps for Attendees
      • Work Project
    • Attendees: After the Meeting
      • The Problem of Bureaucracy
        • Whenever you are up against bureaucratic thinking, use these strategies
          • 1. Get a specific assignment
          • 2. Take the team approach
          • 3. Confront resistance
          • 4. Write a memo
          • 5. Submit an incomplete report
          • 6. Get your facts elsewhere
      • Creating Action and Response
        • You will be more likely to receive a favorable response when you apply these guidelines
        • 1. Be aware of organizational protocol
        • 2. Phrase your request carefully
        • 3. Ask for suggestions
        • 4. Be sensitive to time restraints
        • 5. Be aware of resource problems
        • 6. Apply meeting standards
        • 7. Follow up with a memo
      • Responding to Assignments
      • Immediate Response
        • 1. Don't change your style
        • 2. Hold off until the deadline
        • 3. Question criticism
        • 4. Make fast response a positive trait
        • 5. Ensure high quality
      • The Postmeeting
      • Postmeeting Action Checklist
      • Work Project
    • Politics for Attendees
      • The Need for Disagreement
        • Guidelines
          • 1. Accept discussion as a requirement
          • 2. Point out differences of opinion
          • 3. Raise opposing points of view
          • 4. Begin arguments with a premise
          • 5. Recognize motives
      • Dealing With the Self-Serving Posture
        • 1. Be aware of the meeting's purpose
        • 2. Achieve results outside of the meeting
        • 3. Do not become involved
        • 4. Maintain a neutral position
        • 5. Complain only through channels
      • The Assertive Response
      • Diplomacy in Meetings
        • 1. Think before you speak
        • 2. Phrase your arguments carefully
        • 3. Avoid speaking in absolutes
        • 4. Present fact over opinion
        • 5. Show respect for common beliefs
        • 6. Don't disagree just to make a point
        • 7. Keep an open mind
      • Making Politics a Plus
      • Work Project
    • Creating the Best Environment
      • Maximizing the Leadership Role
        • Leaders can improve their performance …
          • 1. Evaluate past meetings
          • 2. Invite critical evaluation and suggestions from your attendees
          • 3. When reaction to your efforts at follow-up are negative, analyze the reasons
          • 4. Speak to other meeting leaders, especially those whose meetings you have attended
          • 5. Never settle for just one formula for meeting success
        • Attendees can improve …
          • 1. Speak to meeting leaders
          • 2. Evaluate the leaders' ability to motivate attendees
          • 3. Discuss recurring meetings with others who attend
          • 4. Never settle for a passive role during a meeting
        • Guidelines for dealing with leader's possessiveness
          • 1. Define the problem in positive terms
          • 2. Remove the personality issue
          • 3. Accept responsibility
          • 4. Seek solutions by asking questions
      • Working With the Committee
        • 1. Creation of a larger bureaucracy
        • 2. Power threats
        • 3. Approval
      • Evaluating Your Meetings
        • 1. Did you confront the issues?
        • 2. Did you perform the way you wanted to?
        • 3. How did you handle new ideas?
        • 4. Did you practice participation?
        • 5. Did you act to improve meeting quality?
      • Meetings and Your Career
      • Work Project
  • Work Project Answers
  • Index

List of topics in this Folder


“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. — Peter Drucker

The shift from manual workers who do as they are being told — either by the task or by the boss — to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves ↓ profoundly challenges social structure

Managing Oneself is a REVOLUTION in human affairs.” … “It also requires an almost 180-degree change in the knowledge workers’ thoughts and actions from what most of us—even of the younger generation—still take for granted as the way to think and the way to act.” …

… “Managing Oneself is based on the very opposite realities: Workers are likely to outlive organizations (and therefore, employers can’t be depended on for designing your life), and the knowledge worker has mobility.” ← in a context




These pages are attention directing tools for navigating a world moving toward unimagined futures.

It’s up to you to figure out what to harvest and calendarize
working something out in time (1915, 1940, 1970 … 2040 … the outer limit of your concern)nobody is going to do it for you.

It may be a step forward to actively reject something (rather than just passively ignoring) and then figure out a coping plan for what you’ve rejected.

Your future is between your ears and our future is between our collective ears — it can’t be otherwise. A site exploration starting point



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