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Meetings that make a difference

By Bill Fotsch and John Case

Companies have rediscovered meetings—short, focused, informational meetings that keep an organization humming and everybody on the same page.

Take Salt Lake City–based Intermountain Healthcare, which is one of the most innovative organizations in its industry. Intermountain has scaled up over the years and now includes some 40,000 caregivers in dozens of facilities.

Intermountain’s size doesn’t keep it from sharing information regularly and rapidly throughout the organization. The secret is a series of some 2,500 small-group meetings that take place every day.

The purpose of these meetings is to convey essential information about key issues such as patient safety and equipment downtime. Issues that can’t be resolved at one organizational level flow directly to the meeting of the next level up. “By 10 AM,” writes CEO Marc Harrison on the Harvard Business Review’s website, “vital information has risen to the executive leadership, which includes the CEO and his direct reports plus other assigned functional executives.”

Most entrepreneurial companies don’t need such an elaborate system, because they don’t have 40,000 employees spread out over a multistate region. But they do need short, regular meetings focused on whatever numbers are most important to their business—even if their employees don’t all work out of one facility.

Eric Adams and Angus Beasley figured this out a while ago. The two men are founders of Adams + Beasley Associates, a custom construction company in eastern Massachusetts.

Every Monday at 9:00, the company holds a meeting to review and update all projects and prospective projects in the company’s three lines of business (remodeling, estate care and project planning). Information from the field comes in on every project / prospect.  If some attendees are out of the office, as is usually the case, they take part virtually, through meeting software.

Laura Burnes, the company’s director of project planning, then writes up a synopsis of the meeting and sends it out to every employee. One of her recent e-mails showed summary financials for each unit along with informational updates such as “[Customer name] gave a verbal approval for her renovation….Contract will go out this week.”  

A lot of companies would balk at sharing financial numbers so widely. But that’s a key part of the Adams + Beasley philosophy. The founders want their employees to feel like partners in the business. They focus on gross profit broken down by job, not monthly financials.  Every employee knows how the jobs he or she is working on are contributing to gross profit dollars, which drives the overall financial performance of the company.

There’s something more tangible in it for the employees, too. The company pays a profit-sharing bonus based on levels of gross profit, and the weekly e-mail shows the current forecast for the size of the bonus. In one recent week, the forecast bonus was more than 100 hours of pay in both Q3 and Q4 of this year. Money like that encourages people to pay close attention to performance.

The weekly meetings at Adams + Beasley don’t take long—about 30-40 minutes. But they’re an essential element of the company’s information-sharing system. And the feeling of partnership they engender helps set the company apart from competitors.  (If you are interested in seeing their weekly meeting, just ask.  They have allowed many other companies to observe, which is easy to do, since the meetings are virtual.) 

From big companies like Intermountain to entrepreneurial enterprises like Adams + Beasley, short meetings focused on sharing key data turn the company from a collection of individuals into a powerful team. And they give these firms a powerful advantage over rivals still stuck in the era of boring, hour-long, everybody-shoot-their-mouths-off conference room sessions.

Bill Fotsch is founder and president of Open-Book Coaching. John Case is a writer who has published widely on open-book management and related business philosophies. (To subscribe to authors’ biweekly email newsletter, please send the word ‘Subscribe’ to [email protected]).