Meetings are an important part of every business day. They are used to train groups on new methods or processes, to solve problems, to develop new corporate strategies or policies and to inform large groups of the same company information.  While the meeting functions are often the same in every culture, meeting attendance is not the same across cultures.
A core principle for American business is that ‘Time is Money.’ American businessmen/women are very aware of the cost of unproductive use of time and meetings are evaluated within this framework. While it is important to keep everyone ‘in the loop’ (informed of the current situation), Americans don’t always believe that a meeting is the solution to this company need.
As an American business professional, it is expected that you will read the company newsletter, meeting minutes, project reports for your area of responsibility, etc. Attendance at meetings should add to your productive capabilities by giving you knowledge that you need to do your work or helping others to become more productive through training thus increasing the company’s overall productivity. Minutes have a cost metric that is measurable and should be made more efficient.
Every American meeting should have a clear agenda (which is provided before the meeting, if possible), a definite start and end time, practical examples are used to explain issues, the ‘how it would work’ of these examples is discussed, the next steps are clearly outlined, and there is a clear outcome as a result of the meeting (what did the attendees learn or decide?).
Many of these steps are different in an Asian meeting. While Asian businesses are also worried about productivity and efficiency, attendance at a meeting is not always evaluated within a productivity framework. Being invited to attend a meeting is often seen as a mark of status especially when you are not directly involved in the outcome (this is the same in big US companies too). Just being in the audience is considered an honor with no productive outcome requirement. Falling asleep, talking to others, not paying attention, and other non-productive behaviors would be considered highly negative by many American businessmen/women.
While Asian meetings also have clear agendas and often start on time, the format is sometimes different. Often a great deal of time is used discussing the process or methodology of the issue and the focus is on the ‘why‘ before any future action is discussed. Often the meeting goes past its end time and there is no clear outcome from the meeting but only a decision to continue discussing the methodology. Getting everyone to understand and agree first (consensus) is more important than getting a decision made. There may be many meetings before any solution/action is decided.
Both meeting models work because there are many successful Asian and American businesses, however, knowing about the each other’s framework could improve the productivity of joint teams.  Just some “Food for thought” (Something to think about seriously).

Kathleen Gripman

The author is the President of SLS Associates, a local company that specializes in personalized English language lessons and other English language support services. Ms. Gripman is a certified TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) instructor with 20 years of experience.  She has lived and worked overseas for 7 years in 3 different countries., Facebook-SLS Associates, Twitter-SpeakLearn

MI Asian Staff
Author: MI Asian Staff