Putting Meetings in ‘Airplane Mode’

Jun 8, 2016, 09:10 AM by Rachel Feintzeig
Mat Ishbia has a simple rule for keeping meetings at United Shore Financial Services LLC short and on topic: no technology.
This story originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal
Link: http://www.wsj.com/articles/putting-meetings-in-airplane-mode-1465358460

Putting Meetings in ‘Airplane Mode’

CEO Mat Ishbia bans all personal technology in meetings to stop distracting flow of emails, texts

Mat Ishbia has a simple rule for keeping meetings at United Shore Financial Services LLC short and on topic: no technology.

The chief executive of the Troy, Mich.-based wholesale mortgage lender noticed that his leadership team often zoned out during weekly senior-management meetings. The breaking point came when one leader repeated another attendee’s comment, not 30 seconds after he said it, clearly showing he hadn’t been following the conversation.


"It’s almost embarrassing. Do I tell him we just talked about this?” Mr. Ishbia wondered. “The productivity of our meetings was not at the pace and level that it should be.”


The culprit, he decided, was the flow of emails, texts and other distracting matters buzzing attendees’ smartphones and popping up on their tablets. So he declared an ultimatum last summer: All personal technology was barred from meetings he attended. Laptops and iPads were banished; managers were instructed to leave phones in their pockets, if not at their desks.

There was grumbling at first, especially from the company’s technology executives.

“‘We’re going backward,’” Mr. Ishbia said they told him. “ ‘Are we going to go back to faxing next?’ ”

He nixed requests to bring in laptops turned to airplane mode. For the first few weeks, when people pulled out vibrating phones he would remind them of the new policy.

“It’s just such a comfort…having your phone on you at all times,” he said. “That was an adjustment period.” But everyone soon reaped the benefits, he said.

The leadership meeting went from 90 minutes to 60, eventually combining with another 90-minute meeting with executives a little further down the ladder. Now, all 30 people sit through one 90-minute meeting, halving Mr. Ishbia’s time.

About three-quarters of meetings at the 1,530-person firm invoke the no-technology rule. The CEO estimates that on average the approach saves 15% to 20% of attendees’ time; even if they have to spend a few minutes transferring notes from paper to computer afterward, they are still leaving the conference room much faster.

Conversations are also better, he has found, because people are fully engaged.

“There is no distraction,” he says. “The only thing to do is either write on a piece of paper in your notes or listen to the person.”

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