Thursday, November 05, 2015

Talking about meetings

When I worked in the corporate world, meetings seemed to occupy much of the day. Preparing for meetings, travelling to meetings, participating in meetings, writing up the minutes of meetings and finally actioning them.

Most of my fellow product managers had files full of minutes of meetings. If I were to look in a dairy from those days I would find curious cryptic entries consisting typically of a time, a location and then an alpha/numeric code. The same code appeared on the labels in the filing cabinet. What was that all about then?  The company, the lighting division of a leading manufacturer of electrical products seemed to manage everything via a hierarchy of meetings which met on a monthly basis. At the top no doubt was a board meeting, but no marketing people ever got on to that. Our top level was the policy committee, or in fact two policy committees. A committee that planned all light source developments known as the Lamp Policy Committee and another that planned all luminaire developments and known as the Fittings Policy Committee. I got to serve on both of these eventually. Beneath the two top policy committees were sub committee and it was these that had letters and number assigned. The sub committee that dealt with outdoor lighting for example was known as PC10. And these too had sub committees such as PC3H or what ever.

But this wasn't the end of the matter. There were department meetings, sales meetings, factory visit meetings, planning meetings, staff meetings and even briefly the company flirted with a works council. Then there were external meetings at the Lighting Industry Federation - the trade organisation - standards meetings at BSI and no doubt others since forgotten.   Filing cabinets contained little else but minutes and test reports. When the time came for succession to a position on one of these many committees the departing representative handed over the files which usually dated back to the 1950s. One product manager attending his last policy committee before retiring read an extract from the previous month's minutes about the shortages of a particular type of lamp and the excuses put forward by the production site. He then picked up another set of minutes and read something almost identical and sat down. The chairman asked what point he was making.  The point he said was that the second set of minutes was when I first joined the committee 25 years ago!

Fittings Policy Committee was chaired by the company chairman  a larger than life character whose main objective was to get the meeting concluded by lunch. Outside the conference room in the then modern, indeed recently built laboratory building was a mezzanine floor where a generous lunch was set up along with a well stocked bar. On the stroke of midday the catering manager would turn up to start setting up. Our chairman seemed particularly attuned to the chink of glasses and was out of the door like a shot.  If you were to walk past you would find him clasping a large gin and tonic while his meeting droned on inside the conference room.

Yes those were days of boozy lunches and smoke filled meeting rooms. The senior managers puffed on cigars, younger men smoked cigarettes and the older hands spent a great deal of time cleaning, filling and occasionally smoking pipes. There were no ladies on any of the committees that I attended - well not for years.

Occasionally, perhaps because of this team structure we would be sent on a team building course. One of particular note was run on military lines by ex SAS types outside Hereford. A life spent drinking, smoking and eating was not the best preparation. And team players didn't tend to come up with the clever product ideas the company needed. Many of the best ideas came from mavericks, the loners and slightly dotty who were not great team players, but that's another story.