Meetings are like sex

Meetings are like sex. Everybody thinks that they are good at it… until they ask for the truth. We never have real discussions about it: I did not want to say anything… but you know this meeting thing? You are not very good at it.

Meetings are like sex in the sense that they make most people happier about processes and decisions. However, it can also distract from real work.

Meetings are also like sex in the sense that ideas might cross-pollinate and give rise to new ideas. But this cannot happen unless all partners are ready. And that is the main problem with most meetings: people fail to prepare them.

There are simple rules that everyone should follow:

  • Meetings are about social interaction, they are not a substitute for real work. Research shows that computer-mediated collaboration leads to more focused and comprehensive decisions (Kupritz and Cowell, 2011). In other words, meetings are not the right setting to write documents and reports. There are beautiful tools for collaborative writing: use them. If you have edits to propose, do it by email or edit the document directly. The same applies to software, drawings or technical specifications: they are not meant to be written during a meeting.
  • Contrary to a common belief, the meeting is a poor time to start reading the documents. Before the meeting, you should have pulled out all relevant data. If you are meeting to assess a colleague, you should have read his file beforehand… twice. If you are a student meeting his supervisor, you should have looked at all relevant references and you should have a written report available.
  • If you are planning to speak, prepare your talking points ahead of time. If needed, practice what you are going to say in your head. Make sure you are not rambling and wasting people’s time. (But, please, don’t prepare PowerPoint slides.)
  • If you have detailed information to share, please make it available ahead of time to the participants. During the meeting, assume that others have prepared the meeting and resist lengthy technical presentations.

Remember: inefficient meetings can make entire teams, and even entire organizations, inefficient.

Credit: Merlin Mann.

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