Friday, March 28, 2008

Meetings vs Conversation

One of the things I enjoy about my current job is how few meetings I go to.  Right now I have four (count 'em, 4) meetings a week. I can't say I'm a fan of meetings in general, but I haven't figured out a way to not need the few I do go to.

Despite how few meetings I have, somehow I look back at the end of the day and realize I spent a chunk of time away from my desk, with other people. If it wasn't a meeting, what on earth have I been doing all day? Well, really, I've been having conversations. And that's perfectly fine with me.

So to summarize:
Meetings bad (usually). Conversation good (usually).

So why do I like meetings much less than conversation? Let's compare and contrast:
  • Obligation versus Purpose. Meetings are an obligation; they're something you do because it pops up on your calendar and says, "time to go!".  Most meetings have an agenda and some weeks there is more to talk about than other weeks, but you always go anyway. A conversation has a purpose; you start a conversation (or someone starts a conversation with you) because you want to accomplish something.
  • Rigid versus Agile. A meeting has an agenda. It's what you talk about pretty much every time the meeting comes around. A conversation is more agile. You generally have an idea of what you want to talk about when you start the conversation, but it can meander and change topics, and you don't get the dreaded "let's take this offline" postponement. I find I solve more types of problems in one conversation than I do in several meetings, and that's because we can follow the thread from problem to problem.
  • Waiting versus Doing. Sometimes I'll have something I want to talk to a person about, and I find myself saying, "well, I'll just cover it in the meeting". All well and good (I've given the meeting more purpose), but really why should I have waited those few hours or days? Why not have the conversation? Having a set time to talk about things (a meeting) ensures that these items get talked about no later than the meeting, but they also encourage those things to get talked about no earlier than the meeting, and that's counterproductive.
All this being said, there are some purposes for meetings, but I keep to as few meetings as possible. Give me a conversation over a meeting any day!

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