Do you allow people to bring phones & BlackBerries to your meetings? What type of rules do you have regarding their use?

In some of the casts, Mark & Mike have said that they don't have a problem with people these devices into meetings as long as they are set to vibrate and nobody takes a call in the meeting. Is this just for company issued devices or for personal devices as well? Nobody in my meeting is using a company provided device. So the email or phone calls that they are receiving in the meeting not work related. I have seen them stop mid-sentence to check an incoming message or caller ID. Is it reasonable for me to ask them to leave these devices at their desk?

I'm a younger manager, with no wife or kids. A majority of my DRs have little kids. When I try to give feedback regarding this behavior they like to pull the concerned parent card with me, claiming that I don't know what it is like to have children, therefore I couldn't possibly understand that they need their devies with them at all times in case there is an emergency at home. Our meetings are rarely longer than an hour and if they do go longer we usually break every hour for a few minutes.


FULL DISCLOSURE: I have posted before under a different name. Based on my recommendation, a few of my directs are now active members. They know my original username, which makes it difficult to consult the forums about issues related to the team.

jhack's picture

You should know from your one-on-ones if a direct has a family member in dire straits, where getting a call IMMEDIATELY could mean life or death.

This is quite rare. It happened to one of my directs, and for the day or so where this was the situation, the direct was allowed to leave the device on, in his/her pocket. It never rang, btw.

Often, the fear is that the babysitter might call to say Johnny fell and split his lip, so he's gotta go to the doctor. As a parent, I know what these "concerns" are like, and over time most parents learn to relax a little.

Tell your directs that, in the event of such an emergency, the babysitter should have the receptionist's number, and the receptionist can interrupt your meeting to get the direct on the phone.

It's likely a case of simply wanting to feel connected at all times. It's amazing we are all still alive, given that there were no cell phones when many of us were growing up.

John Hack

HMac's picture

I tell people at the beginning of a meeting:

"Please set your devices to vibrate. If you have to take a call or a message, please feel free to leave the room for the duration. When you're here, you're here. When you're not, you're not. I'm asking this not for me, but on behalf of everyone else in the room who may find it distracting to see you or hear you in a different conversation than the one we're all in. Any objections? Thanks."

tlhausmann's picture
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Hmac got it right. Go over ground rules at the beginning of the meeting.

rwwh's picture
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Tom is right, ground rules rule.

The power of ground rules in this case is that you are not dictating them. You do not allow or disallow phones and blackberries. You agree on the rules with the team. The team then enforces the rules together with you.

HMac's picture

*slightly embarrassed*

Although I phrase it carefully, I actually DO dictate that people in the group take their phones and 'berries out of the room to use them. I'm sort of speaking for the group when I deliver that message, and I'm not really looking for debate or discussion. I pause enough to let people agree, but I don't want to give anyone here the idea that I put this up to a vote. It's simply the most effective approach I've found. I can't control whether they bring their devices; I can't control whether or not they set them on vibrate. About the only thing I "control" is the flow of the meeting - and I can bring it to a dead stop if somebody's gonna be so self-centered as to engage in a call or email during a meeting (I just stop talking and stare at them...they get the message). The opening annoucement is just my way of setting expectations.


mjpeterson's picture

Most of the time when its a personal call, it is not a true emergency. If they claim they need to have their personal phones on during a meeting, then they should set up a code so that they will know when it is true emergency and not checking to make sure they pick up milk on their way home.

For example calling 3 times in a row or paging 3 times in a row might be a signal that it is an emergency. I always ignore my calls during a meeting unless they are repeated.

In my case, my wife calls the receptionist who will can find me and let me know that there is an emergency and I need to call my wife. My wife knows I don't answer my phone when I am in a meeting or talking to others, except in specific circumstances.


Lebowski's picture

Thanks to all who have commented. Luckily, people rarely answer the call or the email in my meetings. My issue is with the disturbance the call makes. Even when a device is on vibrate, it is still enough to distract people. A vibrating device on a hard table top makes quite a bit of racket, especially when there are less than 10 people in the room, which is usually the case with the meetings I have.


ian_england's picture


Have you asked people not to bring phones to meetings or to turn off their phones completely during your meetings?

If you have then you might like to consider (if you haven't already) that if you turn a blind eye to people going against your request they are likely to view this as a new standard and they may begin to wonder and test what other "rules" you have they can bend or break.


HMac's picture

...Don't make a rule you can't enforce, or you won't enforce, or isn't practical to enforce.

Just an aside, Lebowski. You wrote:

My issue is with the disturbance the call makes. Even when a device is on vibrate, it is still enough to distract people.

People in meetings are distracted by a lot of things, most of which you can't possibly control (are you going to stop them from daydreaming? That's distracting...).

Your only practical course of action is to make the meeting content more interesting than the distractions; to get people engaged so they don't notice the distractions.


stephenbooth_uk's picture

For most of the meetings I host I arrange with the local admin/receptionist that they will take custody of everyone's phone and take messages. The rule is that the phone is either with the admin or switched off.

It's not happened yet but, if someone did come to me before the meeting and say they had a particular situation where they would absolutely have to answer the phone (e.g. relative in hospital) they I would probably (based on the reason) let them keep their phone on and with them. It would have to be something fairly serious though, kid in hospital would be reasonable but kid at nursery and might want to speak with them not. The kid's got to learn one day that sometimes things don't go their way and today may just be that day.

What has happened in the past is that someone in a meeting has told me beforehand that they need to make a call at a particular time for something relating to their child (e.g. kid has a dental appointment that finishes at 11:30 and they want to call to see how it went). In those situations I'm quite happy to schedule a break for that time or agree they can slip out for a few minutes to make the call.


HMac's picture

This is a great example of how different/diverse the worlds we work in are (and by implication, how hard it is to make blanket "rules"..).

Stephen: for most of the people I work with (sales, marketing, client services, creative) there ISN'T A CHANCE IN THE WORLD that I could "take custody of everyone's phones." No way. No how.

I'm not disagreeing with your approach at all. I'm just saying that different solutions are practical for different audiences.


mtietel's picture
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I was in a series of meetings once (including sales folks!) where everyone agreed on a "no BlackBerrys" rule. In the second meeting there was a box at the entrance and the team made *everyone* put their BB into it.

Another training I was in recently had a "don't be late from breaks" rule. The penalty for breaking the rule wasn't monetary, it was that you had to sing or dance for the group. I can do a mean version of "I'm a Little Teapot"... ;-)

stephenbooth_uk's picture


it works for most of my meetings. The rule is that it's either in the custody of the admin or it's switched off, their choice. Obviously there are situations where it's just not possible, role power gets in the way, but I don't tend to run those sorts of meetings very often. I wasn't trying to say that it's some sort of universal panacea, it is an option worth considering though.

Following Tool's comments below: Due the nature of the work I do meetings I host tend towards the all day with scheduled breaks every 60 to 90 minutes type. I recognise that if you're just getting together with your team, peers or boss for a quick half hour to hour meeting then taking custody of mobiles would be overkill. Still, in that sort of meeting I'd be looking to have a ground rule of mobiles off and no checking email.


AManagerTool's picture

Fixated on this issue?

Look, personal communications devices should be avoided at meetings but not at the expense of political/emotional capital. Being the cell phone Nazi will not be taken well and may actually detract from your meeting. Ground Rules are great for meetings but lets not let perfect be the enemy of good. Violating these rules shouldn't result in public humiliation. That's even more counterproductive than having the stupid phone ring.

For a general meeting, ask that the phones be turned off or put on vibrate. Violations will be dealt with by a stern glance and feedback...later. That's it. We have a meeting to run effectively. I don't think that for a basic meeting adding the extra management cycles around putting every one's cell in a basket or delegating them to your staff is worth it. Be concerned with content, presentation, persuasion, relationships. That is where the rubber meets the road.

HMac's picture

...missed your indirect style and gentle language {placeholder for one of those winky/smiley things..}


AManagerTool's picture

Hehe...thanks Hugh, good to be back.

Been listening to the mergers and acquisitions cast OVER AND OVER AND OVER...LOL.

Stephen has a reason for being a bit more iron fisted about the cellies. Do we all? You all need to determine that for yourselves, of course, but I lean towards doubting it's necessity. Trust me, I love the idea of smashing someones phone in front of a group. Think of the movie "Get Smart" where the Rock smashes the guys cell phone...LOL...hilarious. That would be soooo cool. Just not effective.

Even at the MT effective management conferences (all day, two days, 100 people) that Mike and Mark put on they don't collect cell phones. The politely ask you to deal with it discretely and if it gets out of hand Mark walks over to you and puts a spotlight on your rudeness by just standing by you. No commentary, no humiliation at his hands, just exposure. The message gets across and I don't recall it being an issue.