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Unscheduled Meetings​

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I have an audit client that is located about two hours away from my home office. Last week, through a series of events, a colleague and I ended up having an impromptu meeting with one of the key contacts of the audit client. Typically, I try to stay fairly organized, which means that I like to schedule my meetings in advance — to the extent possible — plan an agenda for the meeting, and respect the time limits that have been established for the meeting. In fact, these actions often are recommended as tips for making meetings more effective.

With this in mind, my spontaneous meeting last week was an eye-opener for me. I believe it was truly a matter of being in the right place at the right time. It all started when we showed up a couple of hours early for another meeting as we were carpooling with someone who needed to be onsite earlier than us. Upon arrival, we stopped by to say hello to our key contact and chatted briefly, in an effort to not disrupt her from her other responsibilities. After our brief conversation, we asked if we could temporarily use an empty conference room in her workspace to catch up on a few other items before our meeting started.

We had only been in the conference room a few minutes, when our key contact came back and really opened up to us (through no urging from us). She began by sharing some personal things that she had gone through over the last couple of months. This was one of those conversations that required little talk from us — just a listening ear. She then expanded into some things that were happening in the office environment. Some of the items she discussed were less significant in nature — who arrived at work on time and who didn’t — and some of the items were of a much more significant nature, such as  potential governance issues within the organization. Although follow-up conversations and analysis are certainly needed, in terms of risk, this conversation was truly telling. 

This week, as I reflect on the conversation, what I keep coming back to is that if we had planned and scheduled a meeting, we may or may not have gotten the same information. Further, following our initial small talk with the audit client, had we indicated we were too busy or not interested in listening, we certainly would not have gotten the same information. While I likely always will be a proponent of scheduling meetings and respecting people’s time, my conversation was a good reminder that sometimes we have to be open to the value that can come from unscheduled time. In all of our interactions, by keeping a listening ear and not being so focused on crossing items off our to-do lists, we can sometimes develop a much greater understanding of the risks that are in front of us.

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