In defense of meetings

I started and saved a draft of a post titled “In defense of meetings” back in summer of 2013. Just a title, no content, not even any notes. I have no idea what I had in mind to write. My guess is that it was something to counter the assertion that “meetings are toxic” put forth in the book Rework back in 2010.

That assertion, of course, resonates with anyone who has ever had to endure a meeting culture in their work. Meetings for the sake of meetings. Meetings to plan the next meeting. Meetings to talk about what was discussed in the most recent meetings. How are you supposed to get any work done with all these meetings?

More recently I’ve put to paper (well, screen) some thoughts on Meetings in the age of working out loud, in which I too bemoan the time spent in meetings when we have all these great collaboration tools we can use to keep everyone “in the loop.” And there is no lack of others who express a similar sentiment, for example Email is A Problem, But Meetings Are the Collaboration Issue. « Simon Terry.

More recently still I’ve been involved in conversations with other members of Agitare about meeting design, looking not at the day-to-day (sometimes hour-to-hour) meetings that plague organizations but rather at the possibilities and potential of well designed meetings beyond the “everyone get together in the same room (physical or virtual) and we’ll go around the room so everyone can say what they want to say” meeting that is so typical in most work places. (Wow, that was a long sentence.)

As part of these conversations I let them know about the great work in this area my friends at Filament are doing here in St. Louis.



I in turn have discovered some great resources about meeting design, most notably the book Meeting Design by Kevin R. Hoffman. In an excerpt from chapter two posted on A List Apart, Hoffman focuses on the one design constraint all meetings share: the ability of the participants to remember the discussion. From the excerpt:

The brain shapes everything believed to be true about the world. On the one hand, it is a powerful computer that can be trained to memorize thousands of numbers in random sequences.1 But brains are also easily deceived, swayed by illusions and pre-existing biases. Those things show up in meetings as your instincts. Instincts vary greatly based on differences in the amount and type of previous experience. The paradox of ability and deceive-ability creates a weird mix of unpredictable behavior in meetings. It’s no wonder that they feel awkward.

Meeting Design by Kevin R. Hoffman

I’m looking forward to digging into this deeper.