Big-name business leaders tell how to run productive meetings


There are few things in business more wasteful of time, money and human resources than the ineffectual business meeting.

Did you know that the average UK person spends 322 working days of their life in a meeting? That’s the equivalent of 16 hours every week, according to recent research by a leading office provider. But rival US figures suggest we get off lightly. Meeting mania seems to have taken a vice-like grip with the number of conferences each day reaching 11 million, according to a study published in Business Insider – ‘Unproductive meetings cost US firms 37 billion dollars a year.’

Richard Branson Speaking Through Microphone

We’ve all got our own take on what drives a good meeting, and the business world’s iconic names have a few tips of their own…

Richard Branson (Virgin Group) For Branson, variety is the spice of life. He’s never been deskbound. So it’s little wonder that the 64-year-old globetrotter claims a switch of scenery plus a dash of fun works wonders for getting delegates to think outside the box. This means staging a meeting in the park or having a chair-free stand-up conference. He advocates some of the more enterprising executives can invite staff to their holiday home, complete with swimming pool, to really loosen them up. Unfortunately, unlike Sir Richard, not all CEOs have a Caribbean island retreat such as Necker Island to call upon.

Jeff Bezos (Amazon) While Branson could do without chairs, Bezos prefers at least one. This is the spare one Bezos uses to remind staff of their customers’ ubiquity. The 50-year-old entrepreneur’s rule two is that no conference should contain more attendees than can be fed two pizzas.  This is so that decision-making processes get speeded up and that ‘groupthink’ – Bezos’s reported most loathed concept – doesn’t impinge on the testing of team ideas. Not one for a quiet life, he hates the habit of agreeing for consensus’ sake.

Larry Page (Google) Running meetings correctly was paramount on Page’s agenda when he became CEO in 2011. He straight away emailed a circular on how to organise meetings successfully. It made three major points: 1) do we need this get-together? 2) if we do, we should designate someone to make the decisions? 3) if a decision cannot be made before a meeting, simply bring the meeting forward.

Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) For such a cutting-edge digital company, Sandberg employs a decidedly old school way of arming herself for a meeting. She takes in a spiral-bound notebook, keeping a record of action items and talking points, crossing them off individually until all have all been dealt with. Then that’s the end of the conference, regardless of how much time is allocated. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has his own unique take on meetings. He took on a personal challenge last year to meet a new person (outside of Facebook) every single day for the whole year – in order to do get ‘broader exposure’ and do more things for the community.

Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) Employees must feel like they are pitching to The Dragons’ Den when they go into Mayer’s boardroom. Each proposal submitted is reportedly vetted and dissected meticulously. Mayer asks just how delegates arrived at their conclusions, what research they have to back it up, and what study methodology they employed. Mayer is the equivalent of the maths teacher who knocks a pupil down to size after getting the right answer by asking: “Now show me your working.”


Posted by Ashleigh Sharp



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