I get pulled into meetings constantly. Most meetings could be achieved with a few emails or chat conversations and I feverishly avoid them. I question their existence, I demand an agenda and I make sure to leave the room with fresh objectives. These meetings are riddled with sports innuendoes and their agendas generally include phrases like “let’s touch-base”, “let’s kick-off this project”, “discuss the game-plan” etc. Not that sports-innuendoes make meetings inefficient but I really dislike them. The results of most meetings can be usually better achieved with technology without making people have to sit face-to-face.
Bias is the first drawback of a meeting. The main idea of planning a meeting is to get the project to a higher more intellectual state of solution by involving the team-members. Yet, the biggest drawback of these meetings is the human factor. Some people are shy, some exuberant and some forceful. Therefore, some ideas get heard more than the others and there is no equal voting on these ideas. Using a sports analogy (purely out of social conditioning), the playing-ground is biased towards social presence. A good meeting-conductor and time-keeper can reduce this bias but only so much and there aren’t many good meeting-managers in my experience.
The second drawback of meetings is a time-drain of its attendees. Not everyone has equal proportion of inputs and involvement in a meeting. They are made to sit around and twiddle their thumbs till their part arrives. This not only de-values the time of said attendees but also gives birth to a culture of using laptops and blackberries during meetings, disrupting the time of those involved.
Meetings generate a bad reputation for this reason. I see it as a meeting-room problem. Meeting rooms are larger areas in a building and therefore few in number. Hence their availability is sought after restricting the topic of discussion to time and space. Some meeting-rooms are noting but conference calls which restrict time alone. A default replacement to meeting-rooms is the inbox of your email client. Many use this medium due to scheduling conflicts. Even I recommended it earlier in this post. Email is also somewhat inefficient. People with little involvement get copied in emails and they spend hours sorting ‘noise’ in their inboxes before they can get work done.
Inbox — in relation to work-flow — generally becomes another disaster born out of the inefficient process of meetings. Team members do not quit thinking about the project after the meeting is adjourned. They communicate with the rest of the team in emails or mini-meetings plagued by the similar problems of regular meetings. Project management tools have gained popularity due to this. 37 Signals even recognized emails as their true competition in this blog post.
Technology removes the human element from creating bias. Trolls are an exception and can be tackled. Today, I was at a bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee meeting that was plagued with these inefficiencies. All attendees are not even connected by email chains. There is no good way to join the discussions other than making it to the meeting once a month on a Thursday evening. The attendees wait all month generating ideas and dump them out at this one meeting. This dump is generally not focused to the main issues and add noise to an already complicated process. This committee has not achieved anything, if not very little in the past decade.
Here is my recommendation to the BPAC to become more effective in generating ideas and getting actions.
-get a website
-get a forum with membership
-make members use real names, not alias.
-have a section for generating ideas where someone posts a short writeup with a relevant title.
-each month, members up-vote this idea or down-vote it, like Reddit, Stackexchange etc do it. One vote per week. They start a preliminary discussion on these ideas in the form of comments to this writeup.
-Anonymous users only get to comment once a day.
-five top-voted ideas become the agenda for the next meeting.
-unless an idea is accomplished, it stays active.
-ideas active for three months get flagged and become the first topic of discussion at each meeting. They have to be either made primary focus and resolved or deleted off the list.
People are ready to give in their time to build and manage such a service. It was evident from how many people volunteered their services today. We appear to be stuck in the 1920s with an action committee meeting once a month with no communication between meetings.
To build a quality product at your workplace or with city planning, we must get out of our own ways. We must ditch the meeting-room.