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Meeting is a Place of Learning

June 17, 2022

Lately, I often come across statements such as, “Meetings are inefficient,” or “We need to have fewer meetings.” I certainly agree that there are meetings that waste time, and I have noted that an important meeting somehow didn’t communicate the important things it should have. There are times that the holding of the meeting itself has become the objective. The result is that the significance of holding meetings has become lost and defamed in general. Considering this trend, we recently discussed within our firm the importance of our meetings and how we should approach them.

  • The most important thing prior to convening a meeting is to clarify the meeting’s objective(s).

There are various reasons to hold a meeting, but it is essential to clarify the meeting’s objective and let the participants know. For example, we have a weekly project scheduling meeting within our company for senior-level staff members and above to determine individual staff assignments based on those deliberations. The objective is to make assignments, and we avoid lengthy discussions whenever possible. In contrast, the purpose of our Beer Bash gatherings is not to decide anything necessarily, but to deepen our understanding of our managerial philosophy, TOPC Axis (last month, we took up “Turning Complaints into Trust”). Rather than deciding something, the purpose is to share our experiences with each other and to gain a deeper understanding.

  • During a meeting, the most important thing is to participate (provide value).

It is often said that Japan and the US have different meeting styles. Compared to Japanese people, who are more likely to attend meetings quietly without comments, Americans tend to speak up proactively. Our firm’s sessions are conducted based on participants “actually participating.” To take this further, a major premise of our company is that no matter the job or role, we will always seek to “provide value.” If someone just sits in on a meeting silently over in the corner, has that person provided any value to the other attendees?

I feel that the tendency of Japanese people leads them to a fear of making mistakes. As for myself, through my American college education and my career path in the US, I’ve seen that people who don’t provide value in meetings tend not to get invited to study circles, become to be less highly regarded in their careers, and may increase their risk of getting fired. It seems rooted in culture, but one of our managers says that back when he was working at the staff level in Japan, he was disciplined for being silent during meetings. A senior colleague told him, “if you’re not going to do anything in our meetings, there’s no need to attend,” after which he wasn’t invited to subsequent meetings. This happened at a company named in 2017 as Japan’s best company to work for, overtaking renowned rivals such as American Express and JP Morgan. Even junior staff were expected to speak up and actively participate in meetings. It seems to me that what is essential is placing a priority on fostering a culture that values participation in meetings, in which inexperienced staff members don’t need to fear saying something wrong.

While assumptions and expectations of meetings are as I’ve related above, the reality is that some people can make speech naturally, and others find it difficult. It can be challenging for someone who has difficulty speaking in front of others to get up and say things immediately. To overcome this, it is all the more critical for people with this kind of challenge, or those with little experience, to prepare before the meeting. Writing things out in bullet form may be helpful to make them easier to understand. By writing down the items you want to share or have questions about, you can assume some comments you will be making during the meeting. Also, the facilitator can prepare by brainstorming how they want to move the discussion forward and what questions are likely to come up. Unforeseen circumstances may arise, but it is always best to minimize any potential confusion.

  • There may still be those who have difficulty speaking up, but there is no need to be pessimistic. One of the best ways to contribute value for someone who has trouble speaking in front of others or has limited experience is to take minutes. It is difficult for people to keep said material in their minds for long periods. There are also times when we think we understand something, but we actually don’t. By taking down the meeting content in writing, we can clarify what we didn’t understand. So, if you’re the person who has trouble speaking up or doesn’t have a lot of experience, I would encourage you to try taking minutes.

  • The important thing after a meeting is to share the results and align our understandings.

The accuracy of the minutes will be significantly affected by the ability of the staff member who is taking them. The way to compensate for this is to request that a senior colleague with plenty of experience review them. Understanding will be deepened by discussing any points that need correction. Subsequently, the draft should be shared with all participants to confirm whether there are any additions or further revisions to be made. By communicating with all concerned and getting their additional input, perspectives can be expanded on the various points of view. Accordingly, when everyone’s understanding is aligned, the directionality of future projects will be steadier. This helps facilitate another one of our firm’s Axis: Expectation Alignment. When we are all moving in the same direction, we can reduce wasteful misunderstandings and make it easier for everyone to work together.

There are various detailed methodologies for facilitating discussions, etc., but if people are approaching meetings in the wrong way to begin with, such techniques won’t make any difference. The important things are for the convenor of the meeting to clarify the objective(s); for all the participants to be prepared to learn; and for everyone to share whatever it is that is known or decided, thereby achieving directional alignment. Only with all those conditions in place will people be able to learn sufficiently from the meetings they attend. Meetings are miniature versions of work. That is why, in our company, we define “Meeting is a Place of Learning”, and we encourage everyone to take the opportunity to participate actively and deepen their understanding.


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