By Kevin Meyer
Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on how some companies are using meeting rooms at other companies for offsite meetings, instead of the traditional hotel or resort. The thought is that seeing other companies will foster increased creativity, especially when compared to the oft cold and sterile environment of the local Hilton.
I agree – my executive staff has been meeting quarterly at a nearby winery. Contemplating business issues while overlooking vineyards makes it easier to make the tough calls, which are then followed up by some wine-enhanced team re-building. Important lesson: always anoint a scribe so the memory of all the great decisions persists after the teambuilding.
When Spartan Motors Inc. CEO John Sztykiel met with his executive team this past fall, he
drove to a conference room at manufacturer Peckham Inc., 26 miles away. It is an offbeat tactic that the chief executive has devised for
saving money and generating new ideas: holding meetings at other
Managers at companies including specialty-vehicle maker Spartan and utility Duke Energy Corp. say the change of scene encourages creativity and lets employees pick up smart ideas from other companies. At some firms, the practice grew out of the recession, but
executives plan to keep doing it as the economy improves. It can be
thousands of dollars cheaper than conducting off-site meetings at
hotels or rented venues.
New ideas and venues are great, right? Yes, if used correctly – I'll get back to that in a minute. Here's one thing those executives realize, which ties right into lean:
Mr. Sztykiel held his August strategy meeting at Peckham; it cost
him just $87 to feed eight people breakfast and lunch. He has held two
more meetings at Peckham since. While there, he toured the
manufacturing facility and noticed piles of fabric within walking
distance of the forklift truck and the manufacturing area. The fabric
got cut within 20 yards of the shelves where it is stored.
That got him thinking about ways to reduce distances at his own
business. He is moving materials storage closer to Spartan's
manufacturing facility, and is looking for closer suppliers to reduce
Mr. Sztykiel was also impressed with one of Peckham's energy-saving
initiatives: waterless urinals, which he plans to install at Spartan.
Great ideas. But as I mentioned a month ago, be careful.
Why? Two reasons. The first is that there's a limit to how
many new things you can simply add to an organization. 5S? Sure,
let's try it. Kaizen? Of course we must have it. Value stream
mapping? Obviously a requirement, so let's do that too. But how many
organizations take the time to identify the problem they are trying to
solve, do a root cause, and determine if that newfangled tool is the
right approach? Practically zilch.
Which brings me to my second
reason for failure: not taking the time to figure out exactly how the
new tool or practice should integrate into existing systems and
cultures. So first we need to figure out if there's a problem and what
a possible solution might be, then we need to ensure that solution is
That's the problem with simply finding and adopting
best practices, especially when they are of the "gee whiz" variety.
And now organizations that have successful systems are actually
marketing access to those systems, even if they probably have no clue
why they work or how they can be applied to other organizations.
Best practices are only "best" if they make sense for your organization, and often they don't. What is the opportunity or problem to be solved? How does solving that problem compare with others in terms of prioritization and therefore allocation and timing of resources? What alternatives to the "best practice" are there, and which is the best match to the problem, organization culture, and other factors?