Sunday, March 3, 2013

Meet and Greet

I'm sure that since the beginning of time, people have attended meetings.  I'm almost certain that during the Paleolithic period, at the end of a successful day of hunting, all the Neanderthal peeps would gather around a fire (if it had been invented, that is) and meet about how best to divvy up the day's spoils.  And as with almost every meeting, I'm also sure that the participants left with new assignments.  Nothing has really changed in that regard.

What has changed is the technology employed to orchestrate and attend meetings.  We now schedule meetings using our email calendars or over the phone, but the result is the same: we all sit around and talk about what has happened, is happening, or needs to happen.  And just as in the olden days, we all come away with new assignments.  But there's one difference: in many of today's meetings, some people are not really "attending" the meeting.

Personally, being an employee of the information technology industry, I don't so much mind the people interaction aspect of meetings.  After all, when you've spent your entire day immersed in code and numbers, it's nice to see and talk to real people.  Without this, your left brain might completely conquer your right brain, turning it into a mass of number-crunching, logic-processing neurons.  But even so, there are times when meetings seem useless.  Consider, for a moment, those times when you spot your co-workers sitting around the meeting table with their laptops open, each engaged in some activity that has absolutely nothing to do with the meeting itself.  If this is the case, why have a meeting?

Some years ago, a friend told me that a rather pricey consultant, after working with his group for several weeks trying to find ways to improve processes and workflows, submitted an analysis of the company's strengths and shortcomings.  According to my friend, the consultant's report could be summarized in a single statement: every meeting should have an agenda.  An expensive price to pay, perhaps, but true.  Without some plan of action, a meeting is nothing more than a big greeting, and there's nothing wrong with greeting, except that our companies are paying us to do more than that.  Indeed, for some people, meetings have become something to be avoided.  In the words of writer Chris Bohjalian, "When Dante was designing his inner rings of hell, he wanted to make one of them nothing but meetings.  His publisher dissuaded him, explaining that no one would buy the book if they thought there were meetings."

I don't mind a good, productive meeting, and I'm a big fan of technology, but I have an idea.  Social media applications give us the opportunity to meet online to our hearts' content.  But during the work day, why don't we leave the laptops at our desks every now and then, fill our coffee cups or water bottles, then head into that next meeting with the purpose of listening to each other face-to-face?  Who knows?  We might actually enjoy ourselves and learn something in the process, that is, unless the meeting starts at 11:30...that's entirely too close to lunchtime.