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Banishing key bane of bank life—meetings

Book Review: Tips for avoiding wasted meeting time

No More Pointless Meetings, Breakthrough Sessions That Will Revolutionize The Way You Work. By Martin Murphy, Amacom. 240 pp. No More Pointless Meetings, Breakthrough Sessions That Will Revolutionize The Way You Work. By Martin Murphy, Amacom. 240 pp.

What would you think about calling a meeting to discuss meetings?

There is probably not much interest in gathering to discuss, problem solve, and try to grow through a process that is dreaded by many for its inability to accomplish much of anything. Who has time for yet one more meeting? everyone invited will think. They might even think someone was making a joke.

So, instead, how about reading a relatively short book that may help you learn how to avoid pointless meetings?

That book is Murphy's aptly titled No More Pointless Meetings. Murphy is founder and president of Quantum Meetings. The book outlines how to "transform conventional meetings into workflow sessions that are truly productive."

When first assigned to review this book, my preconceived ideas about meetings immediately came to mind.

Is there any industry that spends quite so much of its time in meetings as happens in banking?

What could possibly change the often-unproductive methods that most businesses have resigned themselves to when information needs to be shared, problems solved, or planning for the future is needed?

After reading the book, I found that much can change in the way meetings are conducted.

Jumping right into the challenge

From the start it is apparent that Mr. Murphy does not want to waste time.

He provides a lead chapter called "Why Meetings Fail: Reframing Workflow Management" and outlines the guiding principles for a successful meeting by purpose. These categories are:

1. The issues-management session

2. The innovation session

3. The problem-solving session

4. Ongoing planning. 

The next four chapters go into the details of these various sessions.

There is  a great deal of information shared in this book and it is obvious that the author is very experienced with these processes which have been successful for him and those that follow his direction. For example: "Most collaboration problems occur in the arena of process, not content. This happens because most managers focus on content and ignore process. While content and process are equally important, few managers understand the importance of separating them."

Your meeting, your agenda. (Now shut up)

There is one point that most managers will have trouble following but is adamantly recommended to change the process:

To have a productive meeting the ranking manager cannot run the meeting and participate.

Yes, you read that right.

Murphy believes that a facilitator should not participate in the content discussions but instead focus on keeping the meeting on track. Most managers could have some difficulty relinquishing control of the meeting but according to the author, this actually frees up the ranking manager to be part of a more productive meeting.

There is much more to this process then wresting the reins of control from the ranking manager. As each category is spread out in detail in chapters two through five, it becomes apparent that succeeding with this approach requires some serious preparation. In addition, meeting planners need to understand the flow.

Once the categories have been outlined, the following two chapters tell the reader that this process in not for only for the multi-person gathering, but also for one-on-one meetings. In fact, Murphy maintains that his approach will change the way we work, no matter the group size--even if alone!

In other words, the author sees a deficiency in our business culture's rudimentary methods of problem solving and creating new ideas.

Reinforcing Murphy's methods

Throughout the book areas are highlighted that further explain the processes being described.

For example, in the "Innovation Session" section there is "Make ‘em laugh," which emphasizes the need to be positive "....by constantly walking around, and never missing an opportunity to validate and make people laugh. Laughter is an important ingredient in the Innovation process..." The importance of keeping track of time and for breaks is also stressed.

The final chapter, "Making it Happen," is full of reminders, hints, encouragement, and tools to learn and practice. It is to say: I have given you the tools, now practice and learn. This final section helps put it all together but there is more: the appendices offer guides for the various-sized groups to further aid in learning Murphy's process.

Will this book remake meetings at your bank?

Clearly, Murphy believes that the typical method of conducting business meetings is not working.

I doubt if there would be very much argument on that point.

There are times when we may leave a meeting thinking, "That was a good meeting!"

But more than likely, we feel quite the opposite.

Next time you are in a meeting, look around you. In today's world, many participants are grateful for a smart phone to keep current with the outside world while they are confined to a meeting--even one that they may have called--but which they are dreading.

Being more interested in one's gadget in hand rather than the meeting at hand can easily be seen as a problem. But perhaps it is a symptom of a greater problem; a problem which this book can help solve. 

Whether bankers and other business people have the desire and dedication to work through the processes to get to better meetings is the bigger question. This book and its methods take work. It was not an easy read, because it is so detailed with instructions on how to change a meeting. It is worth the difficult reading if you can see the positive results to be gained in hundreds of hours of future meetings.

I respect Murphy and his dedication to revolutionizing this mundane process remains--but personal experience hinders my optimism for real success.

Managers are often so stressed for time, there is very little desire to take on another item, especially a process that appears to be very different and probably demands a lot of planning. The reward may be difficult to visualize as one reads through the book.

But maybe those who do will see fewer attendees scrolling through their emails, some day.

(Not to mention actually accomplishing what the meeting was called for.)

If you'd like to review books for our online book column, or have recently read a book that you found helpful that we haven't already reviewed, please e-mail scocheo@sbpub.com

Will Taylor

William Taylor is senior vice-president and senior trust officer at Soy Capital Bank & Trust Company, Decatur, Ill. He is a frequent book reviewer for www.bankingexchange.com

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