The “M” word creates more outbursts of opinion than practically any other word in business.
I’m referring to the word meeting. Almost everybody has a—usually negative—gut reaction to the notion of meetings. Plenty of people would prefer being stuck on a tarmac than stuck in a meeting. Even though water and snacks are often available at meetings, our time belongs to others. On the tarmac, there’s no guarantee of refreshments, but at least our time is our own. In fact, meeting-bashing has become welcome break-room conversation.
Nevertheless, technology vendors have invested huge resources in meetings. So, it’s not just employers who want to load up our schedules with meetings. There are vendors with vested interests in making meetings even more integral to our work than they are now.
Last night on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Larry asked Microsoft founder Bill Gates his opinion of the Apple iPad. Gates responded, “We’re all trying to get to something that you just have to take to a meeting and use.” He added, “It still isn’t the device that I would take to a meeting, because it just has no input.” You can view the video clip here. So, one way Bill gauges the effectiveness of the iPad and similar devices is whether we will want to take them to a meeting. Bill—and by inference, Microsoft—apparently remains focused on keeping us in meetings. In reality, it’s more important whether the iPad and any similar device fits into our lifestyles and work styles than whether we’ll want to bring it to meetings.
Are meetings collaborative? There’s nothing inherently collaborative about an in-person or virtual meeting. That’s right. Using virtual meeting tools is no guarantee that we’re collaborating. Joining a web conference, using telepresence or IMing the day away creates little value unless these tools fit into collaborative organizational culture and practices.
If we compete with colleagues and our teams and organizations reflect “star culture”, do the tools we use make us collaborative? No. It takes more than tools to make collaboration happen. If we fill our ranks with millennials and send them to meetings with devices loaded with collaborative capabilities, will those meetings automatically become collaborative? Don’t bet on it.
The biggest beef about meetings is that they’re a waste of time. In other words, they fail to create value. If we come together as a group and we’re working together to create value, we’re collaborating. So, we’ve essentially transcended the notion of a meeting and instead we’re in a collaborative session. Organizations and vendors should seek to remake meetings as collaborative sessions.
In the final chapter of The Culture of Collaboration book, I note that “Today we struggle to collaborate as effectively at a distance as we do in the same room. Tomorrow the challenge becomes the reverse.” As collaborating in the same room starts seeming awkward, that’s the new frontier. But organizations and technology vendors take note: it’s about creating more value through collaboration rather than better meetings.