Meetings the Benihana Way

chef cooking food at Japanese restaurant

by Peter Cosgrove, MD of Futurewise Ltd.

For anyone who has eaten at Benihana, you will know that it’s a Japanese cuisine restaurant where a chef cooks at your table with intricate knife work, but the clever solution is the fact that they have communal tables of eight, meaning a much more efficient seating of customers. Also, at the end of the meal the chef cleans up right in front of you, and it can feel rude to stay around too long. Even the ice cream is planned to melt quickly so you eat it right away. This experience does not feel rushed but it is a restaurant guiding you through the dinner and gently letting you know when to leave.

I was reflecting on this recently as I sat in another Zoom / Teams meeting which felt too long, too unstructured and the way others were acting, I do not think I was alone. I really believe like at Benihana, virtual meetings have become a much bigger challenge, and we need to support people by guiding them through them. Here are some simple ideas to reflect on for your next meeting:

  • Have less people. Look to have the minimum amount of people, when people feel they will just be a listener it is very hard for them to stay focused during the meeting.
  • Make meetings shorter. Challenge yourself to do what you were doing in 50% of the time, you will find this means a stricter agenda, more concise viewpoints and more active prompting and interjecting by the host to keep things on track where needed.
  • Have a facilitator and a host, do not make them the same person. The amount of issues with mute, wifi, screen sharing etc that we have all seen, means the host can get sidetracked, therefore before any important meeting have someone whose job it is to manage all disruptions, late attendees, technical challenges etc., to leave the host free to focus on the meeting objective.
  • Prepare for the worst. We cannot completely control wifi /technology, and when it goes down for one person or for everyone we often are sitting there unclear what to do. It is worth telling everyone upfront what the protocol is if things stop working and even to give them a person to email offline if needed.
  • Cancel the meeting if it is a recurring meeting, see if there is a different way to achieve the same or better result. If stuck, ask the attendees for their ideas.

The future of working will become a blend of office and home working but we do need to improve the online experience and focus more on the people. You may feel your meetings run well but most people I talk to rarely seem excited about their next online meeting and often are dreading it, so reflect on how you are doing. If Benihana can give you a great efficient experience and do it quicker than you may have wanted but still make you feel good, we should be able to do this with our meetings.

About the author

Peter Cosgrove leads Futurewise and is an expert on future trends and a much sought-after speaker on talks related to the future of work. He has over 25 years business experience on executive teams as well as on not for profit boards as board member and Chairman. He has been Chair of Junior Achievement Ireland, the National Recruitment Federation and currently serves on the 30% Club Steering Committee tackling gender balance and is Vice Chairman of Aware, a leading mental health charity. Peter has served as a Board adviser for a number of Staffing organisations and has been a contributor to the Expert Group on Future Skills.