What is the Role of Reports and Meetings in Your Organization?

December 6, 2011

If people are coming to work excited...if they're making mistakes freely and fearlessly...if they're having fun...if they're concentrating on doing things, rather than preparing reports and going to meetings...then somewhere you have a leader.” –- Robert Townsend

Meetings and reports are double-edged swords. Used wisely they can be effective instruments for planning and coordinating work. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to cross the line and turn these very same things into onerous, time-consuming drains on productivity.

That line is invariably crossed when management takes the view that everyone is subject to their authority and control. This drives a demand for reports and status meetings that fills up countless hours per week.

This can be further exacerbated by the limited span of control concept because the constraint on the number of people that can be “controlled” (managed) by any one person ultimately introduces multiple layers of management into the equation that not only creates more meetings and reports. Worse, these extra layers don’t always mesh, further impeding the very cooperation and communication that organizations require to be productive.

The reality is that management exists (or should exist) to help those doing the work. Any small business that begins to grow finds that it needs others to help with all of those extraneous tasks that hinder the ability of those who started the business to serve the customers. Small business that need to expand don’t hire people thinking, “You know, we’re so busy that we really need to hire people who can come in here and add even more overhead, costs and frustration to our business. That will really help us to grow and prosper.”

Granted, established businesses that don’t have their entrepreneurial founders at the helm hire professional managers to run the business, but all too often management becomes an entity onto itself. In reality, a business should be a collaborative effort between management and the workers to produce outcomes that the customers value.

As Steve Denning says, the customer is the boss and we should focus on delighting the customer. This doesn’t mean that everyone is your customer, nor does it mean that you should try to be all things to all people. This is where management morphs into leadership (although others who aren’t necessarily in management can also be leaders). It is an organization’s leaders that must determine how the organization will succeed—and they must communicate that message to the rest of the organization and the market place. I wrote about this in Delight Your Customers through Focus and Are People Buying What You’re Selling?

Any meetings and reports should be kept as short and simple as possible. The less time and overhead involved with either, the better. Just as we should look beyond the spreadsheet, meetings and reports should be useful instruments for those doing the work and not controls from above. If meetings and reports aren’t saving time and labor for those who are producing outcomes that delight customers, they should be discarded.