If the company you work in is like most, you are frustrated with constant interruptions to your meetings. In days gone by, it was interruptions by secretaries (remember those?) and phones. But we live in a more insidious time now – electronic interruption and expectation. Because we all carry our smart phones with us, everyone expects that if they phone, email or text us, we will answer immediately. It’s a vicious circle. Because we have those devices – we feel we have to respond. If we do respond, we reinforce the expectation.
This was underscored for me in a recent quarterly EOS session with a client. The client was responding to an RFP with an impending deadline. The member of the leadership team ultimately responsible for the response was unable to keep her attention focused on the meeting. I had to repeatedly remind her to close her laptop and to stop answering emails and texts. This leader would also come back from breaks late. You know this drill. You have seen it in your own meetings.
The members of all EOS companies rate all the EOS sessions in which they participate on a scale of 1 to 10. They are rating the value of the time they just spent and the work they accomplished. Several members of this team rated the meeting a 7 – a low rating for any team meeting. Several of them said to me on the way out of the meeting that they were rating the disrespect shown them by the leader who wasn’t engaged in the meeting. They said this happens in many of their company meetings.
This is a leadership problem. As you behave, so will all the employees. You can’t ask them to participate in meetings if you don’t.
The other leadership problem here is that the offending leader probably doesn’t have employees working for her that she trusts to do this work as well as she does. This company can’t, or won’t be able to, scale if this is true. In other cases it may not be true, but rather is a problem with the leader not be able to “let go of the vine” – i.e. not being able to delegate. This latter problem can be solved by hiring the right people, training the great people you have, and setting up processes to allow your leaders to lead and still be confident that the work will get done and done as well as if they had done it themselves.
The electronic interruption problem can be minimized by a few other simple steps. Jonathan Smith, a fellow implementer out of Greater Washington DC, wrote a post entitled, Being Present in a World of Constant Electronic Interruptions. You can find it here. He offers several useful ideas. Key among them is disabling the incoming phone calls and texts, not just silencing your device but by placing it in airplane mode. Read Jonathan’s post for his other thoughts. Are you brave enough to try them? Imagine the progress you could make in meetings without interruptions.
Be an effective leader. Don’t tolerate this behavior. Above all, lead by example, don’t model bad behavior yourself.