The meeting from hell, part 2

Written by Cumulo Nimbus

Two issues ago, I wrote about Nimbus Co.’s recent strategic retreat — which went off the rails faster than Sir John A. fell off the wagon. I faulted my second-in-command, Kernel, for getting lost in a swamp. But my wife, Cirrus, said I wrote about at least seven meeting-planning mistakes, and she challenged readers to write in and point them out.

PROFIT received only one letter commending my leadership. (Thanks, Mom.) All the rest sided with Cirrus. Since I promised to print some comments, here are excerpts from the three best letters. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something.

Sabine Schleese of Schleese Saddlery Service Ltd. in Holland Landing, Ont., started off well by saying she has committed many of the same mistakes I made. “But,” she added cruelly, “not all of them.” Here are the ones Sabine spotted (with a few clarifying comments from me):

  • No agreed-upon agenda: I plead guilty, with an explanation. My staff had told me they preferred free discussion. Besides, I had more agenda items in my head. I’d have remembered them if Kernel hadn’t walked in dripping muck like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
  • No current business plan: Gotcha! That’s not a meeting mistake; it’s a management mistake.
  • All attendees were not punctual: What, that’s my fault?
  • Brainstorming meeting (for SWOT analysis) should have been run according to a formula: Well, if I’d known we’d be doing a SWOT analysis, I would have structured it better.
  • Time spent playing water polo instead of focusing on issues: We had to do something! The meeting broke up early and we’d already paid for dinner.

I’ll admit I enjoyed Sabine’s closing line: “I’ve spent enough time analyzing your mistakes when I should be addressing my own.” I think it’s important to acknowledge your faults.

Next is Victoria’s Dean Lindal, senior global director of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Despite the blatant attempt to promote his club in my space, Dean made some good points:

  • I should have posed an opening “icebreaker question” to get people talking and understanding each other: Actually, I did something like that by saying I wanted everyone to forget rank and position and interact freely. Then I spoke for an hour.
  • Chastising Scanelli for taking the time to prepare slides: Dean even quotes Dale Carnegie, who said, “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Someone should tell that to my staff.
  • No rules of engagement: Entrepreneurs make up the rules as we go along. Saves time thinking.
  • Agenda should allocate a set time to each agenda item, with a specific objective for each: Tried it once. Didn’t work.
  • No rallying cry for the team: There isn’t any room for crying in business. Besides, we save the touchy-feely stuff for the Christmas party.
  • For a strategic-planning retreat, hire an outside facilitator who can help bring alignment to the issues: I see no need to pay for something we can do perfectly well ourselves.

Finally, Anita Sharma offered a few hints. Here are five:

  • Cumulo should have ensured all his staff were present before starting the meeting: Oops.
  • It seems the agenda was not shared with the staff: Okay, I’m starting to get it.
  • You avoided Wanda’s point about budget constraints. Let your staff speak, and chances are they will arrive at resolutions: Earth to Cumulo: this is starting to make sense.
  • No concern for Kernel — you missed his obvious message: For new readers’ benefit, it was something about not struggling when you’re lost in a bog, but taking small steps toward firmer ground. I’m beginning to see it now.
  • You avoided the SWOT analysis altogether. It is obvious the only barrier to idea creation is your interruptions: Touché.

Thank goodness we’re almost out of room. Feedback is good, if you can avoid the depression of learning you’re an idiot. I asked Cirrus how it feels to be married to a clod. Bless her: she says foolishness is a choice, not a condition.

So last week I told my team we’ll be holding another retreat next year. I asked Kernel to assemble an agenda committee, and I put Scanelli in charge of entertainment. If I can find a number for him, we may even invite Dale Carnegie.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com