Author says meetings are bane of corporate culture

Former platoon leader believes that few, if any, meetings are worthwhile

By jamie dougher
Staff Writer

By jamie dougher
Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY Scott Snair of Old Bridge has published a book about the lack of productivity accomplished through workplace meetings.CHRIS KELLY Scott Snair of Old Bridge has published a book about the lack of productivity accomplished through workplace meetings.

As a cannon platoon leader in Operation Desert Storm, Old Bridge resident Scott Snair led 70 soldiers 100 miles into Iraq without having met with that group of soldiers more than once.

He had earlier observed Capt. Karl Stebbins run an entire unit in the desert without holding more than one meeting. Stebbins’ method was to talk to soldiers individually, and Snair said he tried to follow suit from the beginning of his career in the military and in his forthcoming occupations.

Snair’s experiences in the Army and in the business world spurred him to write a book, Stop the Meeting, I Want to Get Off!, about the effectiveness of using one-on-one communication rather than holding conferences and meetings.

"I learned really quickly about the meeting culture in America," he said. "I formed some opinions early on about the general worthlessness of meetings."

Snair, a former West Point class president who has lived on Sixth Street for the past five years, has worked for a paper manufacturer and a telephone company and said his managers and experiences there influenced his leadership style.

"Both in the Army and at [the phone company], what I saw was hard-working people getting pulled ‘out of the field,’ away from productive work in order to have meetings that had nothing to do with that productivity," he said. "I’ve tried to emulate managers that did good things without meeting in a conference room."

He is now the director of the online MBA program at Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business, South Orange.

The book — in which Snair incorporates advice from leaders at several internationally known corporations across various fields — was published by McGraw-Hill Cos. in the United States and Canada and has been translated into seven languages by foreign-language publishers.

"So many people worldwide groan when they get called into a meeting," Snair said.

Stop the Meeting hit U.S. bookshelves in early April, and McGraw-Hill is at the critical juncture at which it will consider a second printing after the first of 6,000. At one time, the book registered a 440 out of 700,000 books on the bestseller list. McGraw-Hill will weigh the decision to publish Snair’s next project, a book about the globalization of the job market, after ascertaining the success of Stop the Meeting.

Snair said he is unaware of any business venue for which a management system devoid of meetings would not work.

"I’ve worked in many different jobs — the military, sales, manufacturing and logistics, and now academics. It’s certainly the same thing everywhere you go," he said.

To operate a successful business without holding meetings, Snair said managers have to approach their workplace and their employees differently.

"If you’re choosing to be the meetingless manager, you have to have one-on-one communication and a good sense of delegation to replace that meeting with effective leadership and an effective hands-on style," he said.

Snair said one-on-one communication allows employees to form an opinion without feeling hampered by the opinions of others.

"It’s a more complete communication process because you’re talking one-on-one to people," he said.

In his book, Snair cites as an example one occasion in which a boss of his announced that all staff members would receive a catered lunch to congratulate them on reducing quality-rejected production more than 1 percent over the previous year. During that lunch, Snair’s boss approached him and asked whether he thought the employees knew why they were being fed. They then wandered the plant, asking meeting attendees if they knew why they were eating a free lunch, and out of the dozen people surveyed, none could recall.

"My boss, realizing how few people had been paying attention that morning, looked like an abandoned puppy," Snair wrote.

He surmises that more people would have known why they were being rewarded had his boss walked around congratulating staff members individually.

The average manager spends from 25 to 75 percent of the workday in meetings, according to what Snair said is a commonly accepted statistic.

"Common sense would dictate that getting everyone together in a meeting makes sense," he said. "You’re all getting the same information. If you need feedback everyone is there that you can ask for information. But what really happens in conferences is counter-intuitive. The worst ideas get bought into in a group [for] the sake of conformity."

Snair said that in a "group think" setting, personal conflicts and aggressive personalities that can dominate a room discourage some from vocalizing their ideas.

To avoid being called into the conference room for meetings, Snair said it is important to keep one’s job description updated.

"You make sure everyone understands your job description so they don’t consider you available for every meeting that comes along."

A loose meeting agenda is a formula for failure, he said, but a tight agenda is still a flawed vehicle.

"You’re still pulling a large number of people away from their work station who are hearing but not listening," he said. "My argument is the best meeting is the one not held."

Snair said there are many people in the corporate world who share similar views and want to reform their schedules, and he believes some are beginning to take note of how operating an office entirely without meetings can increase productivity.

"There’s a much more intense debate on how to run a better meeting," he said. "But because of human nature, meetings are inherently flawed and you’re fixing something that was never working to begin with."