Inside A Corporate Meeting

It was the day of the meeting to finalize the company’s annual plans. It was the culmination of many days (and nights) of tireless work by the underlings. A lot was hanging in the balance. Serious decisions influencing, if not actually affecting, many people’s lives were in the offing. Senior executives from various locations and divisions were expected to be in attendance. No detail was too small to be ignored as far as preparations were concerned. It was show time!

Executives and secretaries (sometimes difficult to tell apart based on what they were doing!) alike were busy weeks before D-Day – synchronizing calendars, canceling and rescheduling other less important activities (such as discussions and signatures on customer contracts!). Countless emails, text messages and phone calls had been exchanged to grab those micro gaps in time when any given executive required for the meeting did not have other commitments on the calendar. Lunch and snack menus had been summoned from top restaurants and gone through in excruciating detail before finalizing precisely what would be served when during the meeting.

Many an intern and lower level staff had slogged for weeks, to the exclusion of attention to any operational work related to the company, over powerpoint slides and spreadsheets giving the best possible picture of their department’s performance and plans. Colors and fonts on the slides had been changed on an hourly basis, depending on the mood of the boss in charge. A substantial quantum of corollary (read, irrelevant) information had been included to provide the ‘broad’ picture. The Internet had been relentlessly scoured to gather all statistics and information to support the required point of view.

On the day of the meeting, the increased level of hustle and bustle was noticeable not just in the corridors of the office floor where the main conference room was located, but around the usual places of office socialization – the ubiquitous water cooler, the break room, the photocopier and, of course, the washroom. Secretaries and others were frantically completing the photocopying of mountains of paper copies of slides, spreadsheets and printouts from Internet pages before making binders for each executive attending the meeting. Trollies with coffee, tea, water and an assortment of cookies were rolled into the conference room.

Some fifteen minutes before the start time, with about 5-6 attendees having arrived early (as they had flown cross-country and were suffering from jet lag), it looked like the meeting would actually take place.  John, the Director who had the misfortune to have been nominated the coordinator for this important meeting, rushed into the room with a folder with a dozen post-it’s sticking out and started dialing the phone in the middle of the room to open the conference call line for people attending remotely. Not being very familiar with the newly implemented technology he encountered considerable difficulty in getting past the robotic message that repeatedly informed him that his access code was invalid. By now, several more attendees had arrived and promptly aligned themselves into two groups – one that was busy catching up with one another on how things had been since they last met and the other that tried to assist John overcome the technical hurdles. It was now 10 minutes past the scheduled start time and, not unusually, the CEO has not arrived yet. Then, John, tethering on the verge of a nervous breakdown as he noticed the CEO enter the room, hit the ‘#’ key on the phone in one last and desperate attempt and was rewarded with the merciful message, “you are now connected to the conference”.

Then began the customary round of introductions. This was characterized by a number of people in the room mumbling under their breath, defeating the purpose of introductions, and the people on the phone not knowing what the expected sequence for talking was, resulting in repeated deadlocks and silence on the line even as the phone speaker volumes were adjusted many times. John, sweating profusely by now, was thankful when the introduction of the 30 odd people was over He then put up the meeting agenda on the screen.

This signaled the beginning of a host of presentations by various departmental heads, complete with multidimensional charts and graphs with innovative axes. The more adventurous executives even resorted to short video clips, involving their dogs, to drive home their points.  Information presented on the complexity of the business operations of the company was so mind boggling that a novice observer could easily have been excused for thinking, “how does this company run amidst such impossible odds?!”.

As the meeting continued, to escape the onslaught of numbers and statistics, many of the attendees resorted to downing several cups of coffee, tea and soft drinks (how they wished for access to some sterner stuff!), comfort breaks and, of course, the innumerable interactions with their smart phones.

The eagerly awaited grand finale came and the CEO, who seemed to have been completely oblivious to what was going on up to that point in time, stood up to speak. His speech was the shortest and consisted of these few sentences: “Thank you one and all. I have enjoyed all your impressive presentations but here is the bottom line for the coming year – I want sales to be up by 5% and there will be no increase in any costs. Wish you all a very happy new year. Let us get to work”.

Later, when the stunned and exhausted executives were headed to the airport to catch their flights home, they could not but wonder whether their presentations and inputs had anything to do with the CEO’s final directive. Thus came to an end another expensive meeting to justify a foregone conclusion!