Pile-On Meetings: How to Fight ‘Stovepipes’

By Shlomo Maital


Kathleen Finch

Kathleen Finch is the chief programming officer for  several cable TV channels: HGTV (Home & Garden Channel), Food Network and Travel Channel.   Her job requires a great deal of creativity, in keeping programming fresh, relevant and lively for viewers.

   Interviewed in today’s International New York Times, she reveals some of her methods for maintaining creativity. One of them is called “pile-on meetings”.   I believe this is a remedy for stovepipe management – that is, narrowly defined management responsibilities, vertical ones, with very little interaction or overlap for creative ideas. Stovepipes are one of the reasons that big organizations with detailed vertical organizational charts   struggle to innovate.

   “I have a meeting every few months that I call a pile-on meeting,” she told the NYT. “I bring about 25 people into a room and go over all the different projects that are coming up in the next 6 months and the goal is that everybody piles on with their ideas to make those projects as successful as they can be. The rule walking into the meeting is that you must forget your job title. I don’t want the marketing person just talking about marketing. I want everyone talking about what they would do to make this better. It is amazing what comes out of those meetings!”

   Another key insight? “I love when things don’t go right, because it’s a good time to talk about taking smart risks. If everything worked all the time, that would mean we’re not trying anything crazy, and it’s the crazy ideas that end up being the really successful ideas.”

     Again, another reason big organizations fail to innovate. Who would attempt anything, in the corporate world, that could well fail?