To explore this topic further, the authors examined 51 strategic-level meetings at universities in the United Kingdom over seven years. Universities were thought to be fertile ground because of their “ostensibly democratic” and open approach to discussions, their diffuse power relationships, and their autonomous professional employees. University meetings should be a place where many points of view are represented and listened to. Unfortunately, the authors found that democracy proved something of an illusion; in the 51 meetings, participants voted on only two occasions.
This research provided highly interesting insights into the process by which strategies are shaped and changed in organizations. Certain types of meetings encourage the suspension of organizational structures. In doing so they allow participants to shape new directions. These meetings are characterized as “closed,” and are attended solely by the top management team. “Open” meetings, those not limited to top managers, tend to reassert existing organizational structures overtly or more subtly and thus are less receptive to new ideas from those on the lower rungs of the group.
If strategic development is to involve more than an organization’s senior management team, the way meetings are conducted and structured must be carefully altered. Otherwise, existing organizational mores will dominate, and the status quo will not change.
Des Dearlove (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a business writer based in the U.K. He is the author of a number of management books and a regular contributor to strategy+business and The (London) Times.
Stuart Crainer (email@example.com) is a business writer based in the U.K. and a regular contributor to strategy+business. He and Des Dearlove founded Suntop Media, a publishing and training company providing business content for online and print publications.