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AP Photo/Yves Logghe
Thinking inside the box.
MUTED

One of the world’s biggest companies found the secret to better meetings: a wooden box

By Oliver Staley

Like a lot of global companies, Anheuser-Busch InBev has a wide array of meeting technology at its disposal. But the massive brewing company only recently discovered its most effective tool: a simple wooden box.

Called the iBox, it sits at the center of the conference table. Before meetings start, executives mute their smart phones and deposit them in the box. The box slams shut and the meeting commences, freed from the distractions of texts, emails, and instant messages.

Phones “are an addiction,” says David Almeida, AB Inbev’s chief people officer. “It’s disrespectful, and it undermines the purpose of the meeting.”

Quartz/Oliver Staley

Executives elsewhere have tried to banish laptops and devices at the occasional meeting, and Christopher Nolan is among the film directors who have banned them from their sets. But making it a formal corporate policy is rare. And the speed with which AB InBev adopted its box is particularly unusual.

An inspiration of CEO Carlos Brito, the boxes first appeared just a few weeks ago at a senior leadership conference in St. Louis, with 200 participants. There was a box on each of the 20 tables, and Brito began the meeting by announcing the new policy. He was greeted by the sound of 20 boxes clapping shut in unison.

The policy was in place for all three days of meetings, then for AB InBev’s subsequent board meeting. “The quality of the meeting was much better,” Almeida says. “Everyone was engaged.”

Soon after, a company-wide edict was issued, and boxes began appearing in offices from Mexico to Mozambique. One executive was so impressed he instituted a box for his family dinners.

For Almeida, the iBox is proof that change doesn’t needs to be complicated or costly to be effective. “It’s a huge innovation, but it’s the simplest.”