If you think you are taking part in more meetings than ever before, you might just be on to something. Yesteryear, when leaders ruled under the command-and-control philosophy, meetings weren’t always required, as leaders often made decisions without asking for help. But in the modern business world, and in business school, important decisions more often than not require consensus. As such, decisions are usually made in teams, and meetings have become the norm. Given we take part in so many meetings here at Kellogg, one question many of us have now is how can we ensure that meetings are productive and efficient.
As I mentioned to above, much of the work we do here at Kellogg is in teams. Practically speaking, we’ve already had multiple papers we’ve written in teams. I’ve had multiple team meetings for clubs I am involved in. And I’v e taken part in a couple of team simulations as part of my MORS class. And that’s just for this week.
In general, the best case scenario for these meetings is that you get to know the other members of the team and that the team is both efficient and productive after that. On the other hand, sometimes the reverse scenario plays out, and instead of being efficient, the team goes on tangents and has long discussions about smaller issues that may or may not be central to the case. That’s because some teams may not always have great chemistry or people may have competing ideas, schedules, and agendas. So in the end, you have to balance having discussions and making decisions.
After spending the past year in law school that dichotomy has become very apparent. Unlike law school, where assignments are due at the end of the semester and so scheduling is often less hectic and less iterative, in business school everything is more periodic. Assignments are due on a weekly basis and students participate in weekly clubs and activities, and at some point recruiting becomes a full time activity, which means the pace of the day seems to go a bit faster.
In many cases, people will simply schedule a time slot on your calendar because it’s the only way to squeeze in a meeting, and in other cases, people will set up regular meeting days to ensure the team is always available on a weekly basis. But no matter which they choose, it’s often the case that the meeting comes up a lot faster than expected and that you often run the risk of not making the most of the time.
One way many people ensure they make the most of their time is by spending an hour or so preparing for meetings beforehand, especially if you are responsible for organizing the meeting (Click here for my post on scheduling transition time). That means thinking beforehand about the agenda, making sure people are reminded not only of the start and end times but also the content, and also researching as much information as possible beforehand.
Another tactic many of my MBA colleagues use is limiting the length of the overall discussion and of the meta discussions. I’ve noticed that in many cases, “intellectual” discussions that don’t lead to getting the answer are often stopped well before the discussion even gets moving. Because having five or six smart people arguing details and going on tangents may not always be the most efficient thing to do time wise.
On the other hand, I also think that’s a weakness of students in MBA programs. Because although having productive meetings depends on clear answers and efficient use of time, it also depends on understanding the diverse set of facts that might be contributing to a case. Weighing tangible issues with intangible principles, incorporating diverse perspectives of the all the team members, anticipating a cascade of skepticism from the broader business community, and putting all that together to formulate a plan.
In a sense, that’s the value of putting the MBA and JD programs together. You learn two different skill sets that allow you to understand the merits of both sides: understanding when to negotiate and when to compromise, when to cut through the information quickly and when incorporate more perspectives, and finally, when to decide and when to discuss for a bit longer.
To that end, I look forward to more meetings here at Kellogg and working with people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, workstyles, and ages. I suspect the meetings will be some of the most enriching learning experiences I have in business school.
Thanks for reading!