Try this at your next company meeting. Before anyone speaks. Before the projector is turned on, appoint someone the meeting Bouncer*. Seriously. They are now your referee. They have the job of keeping the meeting on track. You know how it goes, first, you’re talking about projected sales goals and new marketing initiatives and one thing leads to another and you realize you’ve been talking about Netflix Documentaries for the better part fo an hour. That won’t happen with a bouncer. As soon as things go off-topic, they shut it down. Any digression is cut off. Asides curtailed. Most importantly, when useful info has ceased, instead of sitting in silence, restating the previously stated or talking about how cute cats can be, they ask the same question: Have me done what we came to do, if so, meeting over.
It’s not the craziest idea when you think about it. In fact, in some Japanese businesses, there is an actual office role called the Loud American. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Having a member of staff whose job it is to challenge the norms or say out loud what the rest of the staff won’t. Second-guessing the boss, asking hard questions, making a stink when necessary. Having someone willing to call BS on the higher-ups exactly what keeps bad ideas from moving forward.
We don’t propose you go so far as creating the position of the Loud American. A meeting bouncer, however, well that’s just the ticket.
The responsibilities of the meeting bouncer are three-fold:
1. Checking ID
They are in charge of who gets in and who doesn’t. The criteria is simple, “are you necessary to this meeting?” Are you providing information that anyone needs or are you there to learn and discuss what is being presented? It’s about having engaged people in the meeting who have a stake in the discussion and will benefit from what is seen and said. If you are not completely essential on one of those areas, well, sorry. You’re not getting in.
2. Keep an eye out for Trouble
After the meeting agenda has been set the onus now lies on the bouncer to keep the participants on task and moving forward. Any conversations that stray into non-agenda territory are quickly squashed and everyone is reminded why they have been gathered. This can be prickly as sometimes those who head off on a tangent are more senior in stature, but everyone is equal in the eyes of the bouncer. No special treatment, even for CEOs. Respect the agenda and things will run smoothly.
3. Shutting things down
The basic tenant of effective meeting is t start on time and end early, so when all useful information has been provided and everyone had their say, it’s closing time. When you start hearing protracted silence from presenters and repetition of familiar information it’s safe to assume everything that needs to be said, has. No milling about or breaking into one-on-one conversations should be tolerated. Flick the lights on and off and announce quite loudly “The meeting’s over people. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.” Do t longe enough and they’ll get the message.
The final job of the meeting bouncer is to make sure that everyone got what they needed from the gathering. Go around the table before everyone disperses and make sure that all who attended have the info they came for, and know what they need to do next. If anyone doesn’t meet one or both of those requirements, lock the door and take a seat. No one leaves until everyone is on the same page. It’s like a reverse Thunder Dome situation and it’s critical. Once you’re sure that everyone is in the know, you can set them loose and relinquish your title as bouncer. If you’ve done your job, you’ll most likely never get to be bouncer again.
*The Bouncer should never be the boss. The bouncer needs to be someone with a stake in the project or discussion, but not so senior that they want to digress into various avenues of conversation. In this meeting, the bouncer is in charge. They are, for all intents and purposes, GOD. First year employees tend to be excellent at this and it is actually great for the tables to be turned a bit. As long as everyone keeps it relatively civil and no one gets their feelings hurt, it’s a great role swap exercise that doesn’t need a safe word.