For the past few weeks, I have been pondering the usefulness of the existence of meetings. I’m talking about meetings where you go into a room, and sit for an hour and talk about random stuff, or have an agenda, then end up talking about random stuff anyway, and partially what’s on the agenda.
With every meeting that I’ve been attending, and the hours I feel like I’ve been wasting sitting in meetings that mostly have nothing to do with me, I couldn’t help but ask the question: Isn’t there a better alternative to inviting everyone to a meeting that may not even concern them?
Being very connected online, I can’t help but easily think of Forums, Wikis, Blogs, Sharepoint, Google Wave, etc… to name a few.
So what is stopping us from moving to a solution that is much more efficient, productive, and potentially more fun? I think for the most part, it relies on 2 factors:
1- The person who is considered the leader within a department, the one who calls the meetings, and create their agendas.
2- The willingness (or unwillingness) of the participants to get involved in online forums.
I am not by any means suggesting that meetings shouldn’t exist. I think that direct human interaction is quite crucial, and there are situations where it is more beneficial to meet face to face to discuss a topic than to do it via technology means. For instance:
- Having a brainstorming session about a very specific topic could be beneficial with a whiteboard and participants to whom it may be relevant.
- Meeting in person to discuss a particularly heated topic online, which would be more productive at this point to discuss in person.
- In the absence of adoption of IM or corporate chat rooms as an acceptable method of communication, a meeting would be beneficial to have a quick decision about a particular issue or topic. Though, in my opinion, this point can be easily resolved with the chat room option.
So, why am I suggesting less meetings and more online collaboration? well, there are a few reasons:
1- A meeting is very likely to exclude quite a few attendees in its topics. Though, it’s understandable that sometimes, only a couple of items within the meeting could be relevant to a particular attendee. In an online collaboration system, people can feel free to skip on items that do not concern them, and concentrate on the items of interest. This will save the individuals potentially wasted time, and allow them to have more focused contribution on topics of interest to them.
2- An online collaboration system would allow potentials attendees to read, participate and contribute within their own timeline. (within reason of course, to maintain business continuity). This means, no more wasting time trying to find common times for meetings, scheduling, and bumping other priorities around to accommodate a “more important” meeting.
3- An online collaboration tool would allow the meetings to be, well, self-recorded, this will eliminate the job of the person whose sole purpose in the meeting is to “keep meeting minutes”, which, in most meeting, that person isn’t even there, and therefore, a lot of the data simply evaporates right after the meeting.
4- Unless notes are being taken (see point #3), a meeting is not and will not be searchable. Re-visiting action items, plans, or brainstorming ideas, will be hard, or relying solely on the participant capacity to recall what was discussed.
I’m sure there are tons of other reasons to prefer online collaboration over actual meetings, as I’m also sure that there will be tons of people who will disagree with me on this whole topic.
Whatever the case may be, I’m interested in hearing what you have to say about this. Am I going overboard with boycotting our currently useless meeting habits?