Skip to main content

Need Fresh Air? Schedule a Meeting.

By HealthLeaders Media Staff  
   November 21, 2008

Meetings are a waste of time. OK, maybe not all of them—plenty of meetings address important topics and are conducted in a productive manner. But many of the executives that I talk to each week say they spend too much time in rambling meetings that are not so productive. The result? Executives who spend their meeting time checking e-mail on their handhelds or skimming unrelated reports.

There are a couple of problems with this trend. For starters, when senior leaders divide their attention, they are inevitably going to miss certain parts of the conversation. They may, in fact, miss the one item that would have made attending the meeting worth their time in the first place.

But perhaps even more troubling is the fact that senior leaders may be sending the wrong message to employees—namely that this project or initiative isn't important enough to warrant senior leadership's full attention. Or that meetings in general don't require undivided attention, so it's acceptable to work on other things. Pretty soon, the whole workplace—not just the executive suite—is only half listening in meetings, which then become even more disorganized and ineffective.

Don't get me wrong; I understand the need for healthcare executives to multitask and not waste one precious minute of the day. After all, healthcare is a 24/7 business, and there are emergencies or situations that may require immediate attention or a quick e-mail. And some meetings really don't require their full attention. But perhaps there are better solutions than giving one ear to a meeting for an hour.

Maybe senior executives should just come for the last 15 minutes of a meeting—sans BlackBerry. That way they can devote their full attention, hear the wrap up, action steps, and raise a concern or offer feedback. And who knows—that same concern may have already been resolved in the meeting, and now they can just hear the solution.

Or why not try a walking meeting. Senior leaders can get some exercise and have a meeting at the same time. I know—for some people, the very thought of this sounds dreadful. But I think the idea may have some merit. And considering that a CEO panel convened by The Wall Street Journal claimed that obesity should be the top healthcare priority, here's an opportunity for executives to lead by example. Some potential benefits:

  • You are likely to be more engaged in the conversation, because it's awfully hard to check e-mail or read other materials when you are navigating a walking trail or city streets.
  • Interruptions are less likely.
  • You may be able to build relationships with employees more easily in this setting than around a conference table or from behind a desk.
  • You're improving your health—unless the end destination involves some sort of decadent treat.
  • A little fresh air can help you refocus and be more productive for the rest of the day—that goes for your employees, as well.

Such alternate meeting structures are not a panacea. But they may make some of your lower-priority meetings more tolerable. For them to be effective, however, the same rules apply as with traditional meetings. First and foremost: planning. Have a specific agenda prepared. Be clear about the deliverables that you expect to take away from the meeting. And if the meeting will be mobile—wear comfortable shoes.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the idea of a walk doesn't sound half bad.

Carrie Vaughan is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
Note: You can sign up to receive HealthLeaders Media Corner Office, a free weekly e-newsletter that reports on key management trends and strategies that affect healthcare CEOs and senior leaders.

Tagged Under:

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.