Value of Meetings

Recent results from a study on how one hour of executives’ meetings propagates to hundreds of thousands of hours across the organization are not at all surprising, but its good to see the actual numbers beautifully visualized. The Guardian has a nice article on it, including the quote of the comedian Dave Barry – “Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organisations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate”.

I fundamentally disagree with the author’s stand on replacing status update meetings with electronic updates though. Sure, perhaps some meetings can be replaced with reports. There is nothing better than organization’s habit of keeping project wikis up to date, after all. Making a habit of updating a common document with relevant information could definitely reduce the number of status update meetings required.

But not all meetings can, or should, be replaced with reports. It is much more difficult to clarify confusing points in writing rather than in a conversation with a person, for example. Also, lets not forget the non-verbal aspects of communications. An enthusiastic and a hesitant “this sounds good to me” have entirely different implications for the future progress of the task being discussed, – but would come out identical in print. I wholeheartedly support the ideas of having better organized and better structured meetings, and I am all for crisp coherent up to date documentation. But unless we come up with a technology that captures all non-verbal aspects of human interactions, there will continue to be value in non-electronic communications between people who are working together.

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