Meetings

We’ve been doing a review in the team recently as the introduction of new services for collaborating (SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro and Yammer in particular) have necessitated as rethinking of what tools we use for what purposes. As a general rule I tend to shy away from projects that lead with a bit of technology searching for a solution, but as a provider we have to be seen to “dogfooding” – as in eating our own. (As an aside, a) never accept a request to dinner at home with someone who works in a tech company where “eating your own dogfood” is seen as appropriate behaviour and b) I much prefer Vodafone’s vision of “drinking one’s own champagne”).

Thinking about the tools has made me realise again how infrequently it is that people spend time thinking about their activities and behaviours; we have plenty of tools at our disposal to organise and facilitate meetings with people in disparate organisations and geographies, but how often to people ask why they are meeting?

I have successfully played with the idea of the “stand up” meeting in the past: the basic premise is that if you keep people standing, then the natural length of the meeting remains short; it can work well for regular update meetings, but when the meeting happens over the wire rather than in a room the concept tends to break down as people end up on their backsides (and very few video conferencing services can account for anything but sitting-down delegates, by the way).

I heard another interesting twist at a session I attended last week: meetings should be either scheduled for 15, 30 or more than 90 minutes in length; the logic went as follows:

– for an update meeting you only need 15 or 30 minute slots. If it takes a team longer than that to share updates, then the team is too big or the updates are too rambling.

– for a meeting in which you need to collaborate together, 60 minutes is never enough time. Schedule in for an hour and a half at a minimum (and my view would also be that at least the time of the meeting if not more needs to be spent planning how that session will be run, and pre-briefing participants. Little gets on my nerves more than “we’ll brainstorm”: that’s the sign of lazy planning).

The person who put this idea out reckoned that a lot of the time, 60 minute meetings were as a result of the default time given in scheduling tools like Outlook. I think that there is a lot in that – and a good example of where there is a opportunity for more intelligence to be built into such software. Imagine if the workflow for setting up a meeting, rather than being “find a slot available for the attendees, book the meeting”, was more like:

– state the objectives and outcomes required for the meeting
– understand who might be active participants
– describe who should be informed, yet not necessarily attend
– validate that this will require a meeting to achieve the necessary outcomes
– plan out the activities for the session
– validate again that a meeting is the best route for the outcomes to be achieved
– work out the correct time for the meeting
– find an appropriate time slot for the meeting
– send out participant briefing notes to everyone concerned

Now you might say “oh, we don’t have time to do any of that”… but that’s probably because you spend your working life stuck in hour-long meetings where you’re not entirely sure what your role is because someone thought “Ah ha! We’ll have a meeting!”.

Technology can enable us to to amazing things, but it can also allow us to do stupid things with speed and volume. Maybe some times we should have more intelligence built into the tools that means that when “the computer says no” it’s a good thing.

2 thoughts on “Clock watching

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