— August 10, 2019
Not all off-site business meetings are created equal. Here’s the recipe for getting the most out of yours.
Meetings are a double-edged sword. Often, they are a waste of time and resources, a point well-illustrated by the corporate push across the galaxy to reduce their number, duration and participants. But meetings are also the business’s lifeline, essential for cementing sales and partnerships. Yes, you can Zoom a meeting with colleagues on four different continents, but even in our instant digital culture, in terms of efficacy and intimacy, there’s no substitute for the face-to-face.
But not all face-to-face meetings are created equal, as I learned during a very memorable one a few years ago. I flew in for this meeting across the Atlantic. I was the CRO of an up and coming B2B SaaS startup, about to put the finishing touches on a contract with a brand that would have propelled us into a new and lucrative vertical. As these things go, the meeting—with the brand’s CMO—was scheduled weeks in advance. We were both busy executives, and so a Monday breakfast was suggested and agreed on.
There’s no nicer way to kick off the week than by reeling in a new significant client, I thought as I was ushered to our table at The Breslin, where you can get your week’s share of cholesterol in one sitting. It turned out that I had a lot of time to contemplate the ins and out of a Monday morning, as my partner was held in traffic. “Held in traffic,” he texted two minutes after the meeting was to begin, but then contact was lost (presumably underground). He reappeared at the table half an hour later, disgruntled and disheveled, with a big wet blotch on the front of his dress shirt. His baby, he explained, puked on him as he was dropping her off at daycare. I sincerely accepted his apologies, eager to get the ball rolling, but as he sat down his whole office was literally coming at him through the phone in an orchestra of beeps, rings and buzzes. Apparently, a PR crisis was underway. “Bloody Monday,” he said, and ordered a Bloody Mary. “And make it extra strong.”
More meat out of the meeting
Executives pass a fair share of their work week in out of office meetings. We do breakfasts and lunches, dinners and coffees, beers and a glass of wine. Out of office meetings carry the promise of neutral ground and undivided attention, and are usually reserved for more strategic decisions and partnerships. No one needs an ironed tablecloth across his knees to iron out the details of a budget spreadsheet.
But the accumulated experience of hundreds of such meetings have taught me that regardless of the specific individuals involved, some meetings are poised to be more successful than others. And these are, almost without exception, lunch meetings.
When you are on the receiving end of an OOO business meeting—as agreeable and flattering as that may be—two things happen. First, you’re asked to give up some of your time, which, as an executive, is the most expensive commodity you own. Second, you suspect, and for good reason, that you will also be asked to give your advice, your knowledge, your connections, your help. While mutual gain is a possibility, it’s not the usual case.
When this happens outside your main work hours—during breakfast or dinner time—a part of you resents the whole idea from the get go. You either have loads of work waiting for you at the office and increasingly pressing on your mind with every passing minute, or you’re completely beat at the end of the day and have nothing on your mind except the wish to get home, spend some time with the family, and—if you’re lucky—kick your shoes off and crash on the sofa.
An invitation for a lunch meeting, on the other hand, pays respect to your work/life balance. Lunch is part of your workday, and can even be considered a welcome break from your routine. Moreover, since you’re in the midst of the professional segment of your day you’re already in a working mindset, which enables all hands to get more meat out of the meeting.
A vibe of mutual gain
The same rules and dynamics apply when you’re the meeting’s initiator.
No worries — we’re not dissing your time-honored right for after-work drinks, great for maintaining existing professional relationships; or to the occasional business breakfast.
But when the stakes are high, to maximize the chances of hitting your objectives you need to consider the optimal setup not just for yourself but for your meeting partner too. When is he most likely to be more attentive and less distracted? When will your invitation make her feel that you’re respecting her time, rather than trespassing on it? When you have something mission critical to get done — you want your meeting to be the lunch one.
And, of course, no matter the time or place, always set the scene for relaxed cooperation by genuinely thanking your partner for their time and knowledge. Reduce the tension, reduce barriers to communications, create the vibe of mutual gain. The last bit isn’t trivial: since as a rule gain isn’t balanced, you need to have a clear understanding of where mutual gain does lay in order to set it as the bedrock for the meeting—and to differentiate your meeting from all others.
And suggest a Bloody Mary. It worked wonders with the CMO. Either that, or he felt so bad about our debunked breakfast that he not only signed the agreement but even pulled most of his rejects. But that—you guessed it—happened over lunch.