It is customary these days for a certain type of groovy web dude to declare “email is dead” and “meetings are a waste of time.” These two statements are usually followed by the rattle of a skateboard and the zip of a courier bag handcrafted in Frisco.
Well, perhaps not. But the point is this: meetings (like email) get a seriously bad rap inside big companies. The consensus position seems to be that if the meetings (and the email) would just get out of the way, we could all get on with our real work (and I’m reminded of a former boss who told me once that he had always believed that if the day-to-day hassles ended he could get on with his job, until he realised the day-to-day hassles were his job).
Meetings and email can, of course, be annoying. But then so can desktops that take ages to start up, desk phones with stupid interfaces, colleagues with bad music tastes and lossy headphones etc. etc. The thing is, if you’re in a certain frame of mind or doing a certain kind of activity, pretty much any kind of human interaction can be annoying. Coders hate to be interrupted. Writers, too. They’re face-down, high-intensity-and-focus activities. Interruptions are murderous.
But other activities are not like this. Discussing user propositions, for example. Negotiating priorities. Navigating towards consensus on forward planning. Nudging different groups and stakeholders to a common goal. All these things require contact and interaction. And guess what? Nine times out of ten, the best type of interaction is a meeting.
I say this at the end of a day which, this morning, looked like a nightmare. No yellow left in the Outlook, a series of quite edgy-looking meetings and some random-looking stuff in between. And yet I made enormous progress towards worthwhile goals today. I ended the day clearer on budget, clearer on priorities, pleased to have been listened to, and with a big user proposition agreed by major stakeholders. Without meetings, this would have taken weeks.
Similarly email, which I may come back to another day. Suffice to say that without email, most modern corporations would grind to a halt.
Final point. Corporations don’t organise meetings. People organise meetings. If you’ve got a meeting problem, it’s not a meeting problem, it’s a people problem.
Now, off to a meeting, of course.