Monday, March 06, 2006

Meetings about Meetings?

For particularly crucial meetings, Intel has a special team of six full-time facilitators who guide participants through intensive sessions in a 5,000-square-foot building in Oregon.—Wall Street Journal

So this is what it’s come to at one of America’s great companies: meetings to get ready for meetings?

The facilitators can tap a database of techniques ranging from good icebreakers, to how to evaluate competitive threats.

“Good icebreakers?” What—like, “Business is so bad at Intel…”?

I mean no disrespect here: I’m writing these words on a computer powered by a microprocessor made by Intel (at least I think it’s Intel—although given the recent market share losses to AMD, who knows), and my life has benefited immensely from the computer revolution.

But a 5,000 square-foot building to get ready for meetings?

And they can draw on an armory of tailor-made equipment, including hand-held voting pads for quick, anonymous polling of the meeting members, rolling 6-foot-by-6-foot white boards that can double as space dividers and a 42-foot-long white board.

I admit, I’m not a big Meeting Guy—maybe because the smartest guy I ever worked for had his staff meetings right in his office, at his desk.

And since he worked at a specially-made stand-up desk, we all stood while we talked. No coffee, no doughnuts, no icebreakers or 42-foot white boards or hand-held voting pads. We talked about whatever we had to talk about and then left.

Of course, we weren't running a huge multinational manufacturing enterprise. Still, after reading today's Journal, it makes me wonder: I always thought the guy who started Dilbert worked at the phone company, not Intel…

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations.


RDS said...

CVX also uses meeting facilitors. I was also initially skeptical, but the facilitors keep meetings focused and prevent any one agenda from dominating the meeting

BDG123 said...

Please don't tell me this is so. I hope this article is a distortion of the facts. Although results are consistent with this story. I worked for one of the greatest companies in America for over a decade. Ultimately, the culture became so perverse, work for me became a self destructive exercise.

At the peak of its demise, we became enthralled with fairness, political correctness, facilitators and meeting mania.

To CVX's point, IMO the day a meeting isn't dominated by a particular individual or theme is a day to sell the stock. Feel good meetings and facilitation so that everyone can feel validated when their point is given fair consideration is another word for a morass of bureaucracy and gridlock. More affectionately known as big company disease. Or more commonly known as our public K-12 educational system.

Buying management and not the company is more true than ever. Grove's culture of "Only the Paranoid Survive" motivated a high performance, fast paced culture which was assured of maintaining its leadership mantle. That mantle has now been handed to a protege or sorts who has created a similar culture. Another engineer now running AMD, Hector Ruiz. Buy the leadership: Welch, Toyoda, Gerstner, Grove, Dell, Platt, Lafley and now Ruiz.

Hells_Satans said...

what happened to Andy banning tables in the meeting rooms so no one would talk for more than 15 minutes?

BelowTheCrowd said...

I haven't read the piece, but I have read Andy Grove's take on meetings in his first book "High Output Management" and I've also experienced Intel's meeting culture firsthand.

I'd recommend Grove's first book to anybody who thinks meetings are a waste of time. Actually he says the opposite. I'm traveling so I don't have the book with me, but it's something to the effect of "meetings are where management's work gets done."

The point to doing meetings right is not so that everybody gets validated, feels they are treated fairly etc. The point is to make sure that all the facts are on the table and all options are considered before a decision is made. In a large company that's tough to do. It's very easy for one "big shot" to dominate the agenda, block necessary input from subordinates, and end up making disastrous decisions. One need not go far back in business history to see what happens when a manager doesn't do this.

What I can say about Intel meetings is:

* It's rare that a discussion takes place without all the right people in the room.
* It's rare that these discussions take place with unnecessary people in the room.
* It's rare that a meeting is completed and a decision is made that is questioned after the fact.

Incidentally, it's my understanding that the facility in question is a training/meeting facility that is also used for lots of other things. Back when I worked there (before they built out their latest facility) we used to rent offsite space for large conferences of in-house training because of the lack of on-premises facilities.


CanuckInTX said...

It strikes me as the kind of thing that happens to companies when they bloat up because they're not feeling too much competition. Now that they are feeling the sting of AMD I'm sure you'll see a lot of waste start to fall by the wayside. I can understand training managers to be more effective, like how to manage meetings, but actually employing people full time with all those gizmos is just excess.

BelowTheCrowd said...

As I said in my previous post, my understanding is that the facility and the staff are actually used for other tasks -- primarily in-house training.

You actually see this kind of thing a lot at tech firms (including AMD), because design sessions for complex technological products are almost always very contentious, with lots of people whose careers can be jump started or destroyed by the choice of options included or not included in the project.

It's quite common to employ a neutral party -- either an inside person who has no personal stake in the particular discussion or an outside consultant -- to run these meetings and prevent them from devolving into civil wars the produce no useful outcome, let alone a workable solution.


BDG123 said...

I'm not sure why you continue to discount Jeff's post BTC. To be fair, we are all outsiders and don't have all of the facts but it is extremely clear that Intel is getting crushed in the markets. I mean crushed. They have tried for twenty years to take on TI, get into the analog business, diversify from core processors, etc. They have been extremely unsuccessful. Now, that core business is under full assault.

I can assure you that I have worked in the tech business and have seen a major change once companies get large, flabby and lazy. Andy Grove is GONE! His culture is GONE. That denial is what gets one to this point in the first place IMO.

You simply cannot argue with results. Intel is not a healthy company. Continued denial will perpetutate and exacerabate the problem. Ala GM.

BelowTheCrowd said...


I have never claimed that Intel is a healthy company.

I have never claimed that they don't need to do lots of things differently.

What I have challenged, is the notion that this particular aspect of their operation is a good indicator of what's wrong. The fact is, I worked there when Andy ran the place, and we did meetings this way back then too. And the fact that we did them well was one of the reasons things moved forward.

I've also read Andy's first book, the one in which chapter 4 is titled "Meetings - The Medium of Managerial Work," and in which he clearly lays out the need for well organized, coordinated, logistically planned meetings (essentially saying that you either need to make the effort to do it right or not waste everybody's time). When I was there, that book was the "Bible" of how we needed to operate, as I believe it still is.

Intel's problems, to my mind, have little or nothing to do with any operational procedures that are in place. Many of these have been there since the 70s and worked well back then.

The problem isn't the way meetings are run. The problem is what they're talking about to begin with. Like many established companies, they have little or no idea what to do NEXT. The x86 product line has hit a wall, and they're clearly lacking imagination as to how to move forward. What they really need is a whole bunch of new people, whose careers have not been built upon the old technologies and products. If they do that, the meetings will start to matter again.