It’s a trend of business magazines and blogs and leaders right now to point out all the flaws with meetings. Do a quick Google search and you can read list after list and article after article explaining why you should have less meetings or none at all.
I was ready to get on board.
And in some ways I still am. If you have a few minutes, watch this TED Talk from Jason Fried about the ineffectiveness of meetings. It made my blood pressure go up just to watch it. Because it’s all true.
Interruptions steal productivity and effectiveness. It’s hard to get anything meaningful done if you have meetings every other hour during the day.
Fried suggests cutting out meetings as much as possible and aiming towards the idea of letting each employee work alone to increase productivity.
And it’s not just Fried—these ideas are the flavor of the day. Our beloved Elon Musk has similar rules about meetings. He asks three questions: Should there be a meeting? Who should be there? What is the agenda? With the aim of canceling most meetings for lack of purpose.
A recurring point is that meetings cost money—which is true. Fried says a 1 hour meeting is only 1 hour if there’s only one person there. If it’s a 10-person meeting, then it’s a 10-hour meeting, because that’s how much productivity is lost.
The solution? Send an email. Or at least, keep meetings as short and to-the-point as possible.
Sound like a plan? I think so, too.
Except for one thing—collaboration.
I’ll grant you, there are many jobs that don’t require a whole lot of collaboration. But I work in technology, so I’ll stick with what I know.
And let me tell you, we need collaboration. We need alone time to work, but first we need to have some serious creative coming together.
Thus, we need meetings. Expensive, time-consuming meetings.
Why? At the risk of waxing philosophically, no man is an island. We wrote last week about the creativity inherent in technology. A huge slice of that creativity comes from interaction. It’s whiteboarding ideas until you hit upon one that lights up the room. It’s solving problems through friendly arguments and drawing pictures on napkins to explain concepts to other people until you understand them yourself. It’s asking questions and getting feedback until you’ve developed a plan that you can each go to your desks and work on individually because you all understand the whole picture of what you’re doing together.
Collaboration is key. And it requires meeting (of minds) (in person) (for longer than 20 minutes).
Plus, there’s another angle to this conversation.
As a technology company, we’re quick to send emails. We love communicating through electronic means. We’re early adopters of all things technological. But in an age of emails and text messages and Slack, we’re noticing something else.
A lack of connection. Especially with our customers.
Sherry Turkle has plenty to say about this in her TED talk, Connected, but Alone. She points out that, though we’re the most “connected” generation ever, we’ve never been more alone. Because as humans, we need people to actually listen to us, not just receive our messages that we throw out to the universe in technological bottles.
In a sense, the more we sit in front of our own computers at our own desks and send messages out from our keyboards to lists of contacts, the further removed we become. The more we become islands unto ourselves.
That doesn’t do much for good customer relationships.
Need proof? Take it to the most basic level. Would you rather get a text from your significant other saying “I love you,” or hear it in person?
It’s probably not appropriate to tell your customers you love them, but the truth is there: in-person communication is effective. Have you ever had a chain of 17 emails trying to communicate an idea or set up a conference call?
Me too. Know how long that takes to do that in a phone call or in person? Three minutes. Maybe less.
Meetings are useful. Maybe they’re not always the most efficient way to disseminate information (although sometimes they can be more so), but what are we sacrificing in the name of saving time?
At RoboSource, we’ve made it our goal to humanize technology. Not with artificial intelligence (no creepy robots here), but with human intelligence, and with human interaction. We’re slowly retraining ourselves to pick up the phone more than we shoot off an email. We schedule collaborative meetings and set up conference calls and we draw a lot of pictures on whiteboards.
We’re not perfect at this—far from it. But we’re already seeing encouraging results. Customers feel heard and valued because face-to-face and phone conversations are relationship builders. Our developers are hitting their deadlines because in-person meetings hold them accountable for their actions far more than email reminders. Innovation happens daily because we’re having challenging conversations that sharpen our imaginations.
And we’re learning to cancel the meetings we don’t need so that we can focus on the ones we do need. Because in the end, it’s about balance. Some things really can just be said in an email. The rest, well, don’t be afraid to put meetings on your calendar.