The office is on fire!

Should we call a meeting to discuss next steps? Ridiculous, yes, but…

The “yes, but” in the headline speaks to the amount of time, energy and, more importantly, diversion from other tasks that people waste in meetings discussing the obvious. Instead, employees too frequently hesitate and look for reassurance that they are making the right decision, or they simply aren’t sure if the decision falls within their purview. The safest fallback for the insecure is to democratize and adjudicate the action by calling a meeting.

Although my fire example is ludicrous, it should provoke an assessment by every executive to ensure that associates in the organization reporting to them — from the janitor changing light bulbs to VPs — understand the scope of their authority and have clearly defined parameters that spell out what each unilaterally can and cannot do.

Too many employees reach out to colleagues and superiors to make decisions that should be perfunctory. This results in meeting after meeting to decide or to discuss matters that don’t require unanimity.

To ensure your direct reports aren’t operating in a nebulous state of ambiguity, it is essential to spell out, in writing, guidelines as to what each employee is responsible for and expected to handle without collaboration. This includes the amount of money one can commit to without running the gory details up the flagpole.

As a person’s responsibility increases, the amount of his or her latitude should also increase proportionately. The most critical aspect of assigning responsibilities and parameters is that they are clearly communicated to all involved, not just the individual responsible for carrying out the actual task. Failing to do so is akin to sending a soldier into combat without giving him the appropriate orders, weapons and ammunition to carry out the mission.

A good boss also provides support when an employee feels he or she is entering a gray area and needs advice or affirmation of authority on thornier matters. This is a growing process and, after a subordinate does it solo a few times and begins to feel more comfortable in his or her own skin, the speed and efficiency in making decisions accelerates.

Those who micromanage and want to be involved in every decision are not effective managers because they fail to accomplish objectives through others, and instead become babysitters and nose wipers at every turn. When this type of culture exists, productivity plummets, new ideas are stifled and people spend inordinate amounts of time discussing “woulda, coulda, shoulda” scenarios. This is how the proverbial horse is turned into a camel in laborious, mind-numbing meetings, not to mention the huge damper that this puts on others taking the initiative.

Meetings are a necessary part of every organization with two or more people, but should be reserved for exploring better ways and methods to perform activities, ferreting out new ideas and exchanging thoughts on more lofty subjects than those that have only one obvious answer.

To close the loop, in case of fire, call 911 and then run like hell. In building your business, give your people the authority and let them run like hell and get the job done.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of
$5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide.