Did you hear the one about the guy described as an “outstanding” student?

Having a meeting about having a meeting
Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

It’s followed by the punch line, “True, he was always out standing in the hall.”

But seriously, more about the value of that hall later.

I was thinking about meetings we had years ago and how sometimes those meetings were sheer torture. Typically there were about 10 department heads in attendance. It was best to arrive early to grab a seat away from the boss, er, facilitator.

Not that we didn’t have important topics to cover. We did. Everything from sales and labor to store conditions and beyond. We even had a printed agenda to follow along.

It’s just that meetings are regarded as something to be, at best, endured. This is true in most organizations, be it big oil or in the small confines of a grocery store.

The question comes down to how effective meetings really are.

Will Rogers once said, “Outside of traffic, there is nothing that has held this country back as much as meetings.”

I tried to find a seat in the conference room near a wall to lean against. Along with coffee, it was wise to take a pen and notebook. Some have suggested taking car keys along too, to have something sharp to auger into the palm of your hand to neutralize the pain of seemingly endless chatter.

The problem with many meetings is speakers tend to drone on and on about subjects that matter less and less to the audience. Our store facilitator dominated the hours we sat there, so it was more a lecture than a true meeting. Still, we had to try to pay attention and avoid being caught daydreaming, which happened to me once or twice.

Oh, we had the segment where we went around the room looking for contributors.

You know how that goes — some try to muscle into the spotlight and others remain silent, afraid of having an idea shot down. Or maybe they were thinking a meeting lengthened by their comment meant that much longer catching up on the sales floor.

Meetings can be great, however. It’s just that some require 15 minutes, and others may need every bit of those two hours. It’s when the 15-minute version is stretched into the two-hour period that equates meetings with bloodletting.

But back to the hall reference — doesn’t it seem that’s where the most effective meetings take place? A few people bump into each other for a few minutes in the hallway, minus the stress of a crowded room.

“I have an idea,” or “I’d like to try this.”

Seems to actually get more things in motion than any formal agenda and with far less pain.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

Have some tips on how to make the most out of meetings? Leave a comment and add your take.