Meetings or Communication Encounters?

Seth Godin offers a helpful take on meetings

The real problem is that we think of all this as meetings.  These aren't meetings. These are communication encounters. The focus isn't on communication. It is attending the meeting.  This stuff has bothered me for a long time. As a result, I work differently with my clients in terms of meetings.

I structure meetings so that they begin approximately three to seven days before we gather. I use email, microblogs and online surveys to engage people in thought and conversation about the content of the meeting. My conviction is that people should walk into the meeting already in conversation about the topic.

Here's how I do it. I put a simple online survey together asking the kinds of questions that I would ordinarily ask at the beginning of the meeting. I give them a defined period of time to respond. The survey typically is anonymous, but doesn't have to be. Anonymity tends to produce more honest, candid thought which is more beneficial.

I then download the survey results, format them for easy reading, including line numbers for easy reference, and then return it to everyone prior to meeting. The meeting then becomes a discussion of what was discussed in the survey responses.

The advantage of this is that it gives everyone time to think about what the issues are, and time to articulate their thoughts. It gives everyone time to learn what everyone else is thinking, without knowing who is thinking it.  That way there is a higher level of respect for the comments than may actually be in effect in the group.  In essence, the game is shifted from power between people to the power of ideas.

When we gather it is then the task of the facilitator to engage the group in conversation that leads to clarity of perspective and effective decisions.

I hate meetings just like everyone else. As a result, my practice is to set a defined meeting time. Begin on time, and end early.  It is my way of giving back to the participants for giving up their time away from their individual work.

Meetings have to be understand in terms of the importance of communication. And I have never seen a group that has mastered the art of communication. It is one of the principal challenges that organizational leaders face.