Thursday, March 24, 2005

Meeting better, asynchronously

If you attend meetings at work, try an experiment over the next work week. Log how much time is given over to the discussion of scheduling the next meeting ("Can we meet Tuesday at 10?" "No, I've got a staff meeting then. What about 11:30?" "No, I've got a lunch meeting with a customer. What about Wednesday?"). Also, log what delay, if any, occurs between when you'd naturally like to hold the meeting (say, Tuesday morning at 10) and when it actually occurs (say, Wednesday afternoon at 3). Divide the first number by the total length of the meeting to get the fraction of meeting time spent on meeting scheduling. Sum the total delay for all meetings and divide by the number of meetings to get the average delay per meeting.

I find it interesting that most business people I encounter aren't familiar with the concept of asynchronous meetings. We're used to synchronous meetings, in which we're all in the same conference room or on the same phone bridge. We're used to email, but many seem to think of that as work we do between meetings.

I think we're missing out on a great productivity enhancer when we ignore asynchronous meetings, and I think the time spent doing scheduling is just part of the problem. I've outlined a few more ideas in Online Facilitation for Inperson Facilitators, and I've put together a little matrix to help differentiate types of meetings and when you might choose which. You can find a wealth of additional information at my friend and colleague Nancy White's site (check out her blog, too). If you try moving some of your meetings to an asynchronous mode, I encourage you to plan the meeting thoughtfully. All meetings could benefit from thoughtful planning (and, judging by what people often say about meetings, they don't always receive such planning attention), but asynchronous meetings, because they're not familiar to most of us, especially benefit from careful planning and facilitation.

Oh, if you do the experiment and are willing to share, post a response to this note next week with your results. If you'd prefer not to publish your name and company, just email me the numbers, let me know you'd like me not to publish your name or company, and I'll simply publish the statistics. Thanks!

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