On Meetings

August 11, 2010

In last weeks book review about ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson I mentioned that you may not agree with every point the authors mention.

I think the one point in that text I don’t fully agree with is the one on meetings.

The authors, to paraphrase slightly, state; don’t have meetings at all, except in an emergency.

For most of us SME’s, there are good reasons that you should have meetings.

1) In many small to medium businesses here is the primary disconnect I often see when dealing with IT staff or suppliers.

The business management responsible for IT?

Well, they never speak to technology staff unless something is broken. For non-technology managers (ie COO, CFO etc) responsible for their IT, if you are not in regular communication and demanding both tactical and strategic updates, I consider you to be abdicating, not delegating your technology function.

2) You know the old story of the blind men trying to identify an elephant when they can only touch very small pieces?

In our fast paced world, many of us travel, many of us also work solo – often not even in the same location. We can begin to get a feeling of The big picturedisconnect, a feeling of absence. We begin to lose sight of the bigger picture. We begin to be like the blind men, never seeing that bigger picture.

An occasional meeting (even with only video) can help keep people feeling connected and ‘in the loop’. Enabling them to take a look at that elephant.

3) Simply enough – Ambiguity.

Have you every been caught in email CC (carbon copy) hell as people argue, negotiate or discuss?

I am sure most of us have!

Email or other non-visual methods of communication when the issue is explicit instructions or a request, I agree – no need to waste time on a meeting.

But if there is any form of ambiguity? if participants need to negotiate? to discuss? to resolve? (even on a one to one basis) Get it on the table, and get it cleared up quickly. Don’t sit through eight hours of back and forth email hell.

The Caveat

With the above being said, I disagree with vague, useless, time sucking meetings just as much as any body else!

You don’t need everybody in the company to attend a meeting, only the people required for a decision.

Proper agenda, and follow it. Don’t wander off track.

Explicitly clarify and repeat what was decided – and what was not decided – and summarize the  next steps and each deliverable.

The SMB Takeaway

There are many really, really bad meetings going on in most of our businesses, yes – you need to fix them! but a blanket No meetings! is usually not the right response.

Photo Credit decafinata via flickr

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