Meetings CAN Be Fun: Here’s How

I started my career working in one of Japan’s “Big Five” trading companies. I enjoyed the job—except for one thing: the meetings.

Various unwritten rules governed how meetings were conducted. It was understood that the only people with the right to speak were elderly males high up in the hierarchy. The rest of us—like children in Victorian times—were only meant to “speak when we were spoken to.” Speaking up spontaneously was frowned on and came with risk.

Besides, even when someone junior had the guts to speak out, it was very unlikely to make a difference. Why? Because the meeting’s outcomes had already been decided in advance among the key players. (This practice is called nemawashi. The term comes from gardening and refers to digging around the roots of a tree prior to transplanting it.)

Anyway, for the first years of my working life, most of the meetings I took part in were just hollow, formal ceremonies where creative discussion was stifled, not encouraged.

I always thought there had to be a better way to do things. To me, a meeting should not just be a place to exchange information and make decisions; they should be a place where you can educate and motivate yourself through interaction with other people. A “good” meeting should expose you to positive role models/behaviors that reaffirm the fundamental values of the company to you.

That’s why, when I set up my own firm after coming back from the US, I consciously set out to do everything in opposition to Japanese tradition, and to exclude all the bad old practices of seniority, male dominance, rubber-stamping etc.

To make sure that meetings at our company achieve the objective of educating and motivating, I even devised “The Meeting Way”—five simple guidelines to ensure that our meetings are positive experiences for all concerned.

1. Clear Agenda and Punctual Start

The person in charge of the meeting has to inform everyone taking part about the agenda 48 hours in advance so they can prep themselves. The meeting must also start bang on time.

2. Clear Goals and Duration

The person in charge has to open proceedings by stating clearly what the meeting’s goal is. The second thing to communicate is what time the meeting is scheduled to end. (We aim for one hour maximum, and an average of half an hour.)

3. Constructive and Focused Discussion

Wacky and creative ideas should be listened to with respect, not rejected automatically. We want to hear the widest possible range of opinions while also adhering to the agenda. Irrelevant, emotional, irrational or overly long comments are not welcome.

4. Disagreement and Commitment

Once the majority has reached a decision, everyone—even those people who disagree—have to commit to it. (This is an idea we took from Hewlett-Packard.)

5. 24-Hour Reporting

A report of the meeting should be mailed out within 24 hours. It must also be sent to those people who for one reason or another were unable to attend the meeting. If any of the absentees have a serious objection to the outcome, they can request the reconvening of the meeting and even overturn the original outcome. This “right of protest” ensures there is no coercion at any point in the decision-making process.

Thanks to these five principles, our meetings are not just effective, efficient and punctual, they are also democratic, transparent and totally credible.

(I should add that as the boss of the organization, I do my very best to keep quiet and stay out of the way during meetings in order to encourage everyone else to come forward and speak. I wrote about this “do-nothing-to-achieve-best-results” leadership philosophy in a post you can read here.)

I believe that the fact that we give everyone a voice within a constructive framework was a major reason why VORKERS, a website that evaluates companies based on direct employee feedback, listed us as the No.1 company for motivated employees in all Japan.

Yes, incredible though it may sound, meetings can be motivating rather than soul-destroying, fun rather than boring!

How are things at your workplace? Do you get the chance to express wacky ideas or to object to decisions taken in your absence? Do the meetings you attend energize and motivate you—or simply sap your will to live?

Let me know.

Photo: Rawpixel / shutterstock


Mr. Yoshito Hori established GLOBIS Management School in 1992 and GLOBIS Capital Partners in 1996. In 2003, GLOBIS started its original MBA program which, in 2006, received accreditation from the Japanese Ministry of Education and gained “university” status. GLOBIS started a part-time MBA program in English in 2009 and a full-time MBA program in English in 2012.

A Harvard MBA graduate and former Sumitomo Corporation employee, Mr. Hori founded the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Japan Chapter in 1995 and became the first board member from Asia in charge of Asia Pacific region in 1996. He also served on the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s New Asian Leaders Executive Committee and Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership, as well as the Harvard Business School Alumni Board from 2005 to 2008. Currently, Mr. Hori is a board member of the Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and serves as co-chair of WEF’s Global Growth Companies.

In 2008, he launched the G1 Summit – a Japanese version of the WEF’s annual Davos forum. This led to the foundation of G1 Summit Institute in 2013, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

Just days after a huge earthquake struck northeast Japan in March 2011, Mr. Hori launched Project KIBOW to support the rebuilding of the disaster-affected areas. The following year Project KIBOW was incorporated as the KIBOW Foundation, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

An avid enthusiast of the Japanese game Go since age 40, Mr. Hori has been Director of the Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association) since June 2013.

Since October 2013, Mr. Hori has hosted a weekly TV program in Japan called Nippon Mirai Kaigi (Japan Future Conference). He has authored several books including Visionary Leaders who Create and Innovate Societies, Six Dimensions of Life, and My Personal Mission Statement.

Mr. Hori received his BS in Engineering from Kyoto University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an avid swimmer and enjoys spending time with his family, especially his five sons.

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