Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What if you scheduled a meeting and no one showed up?

Everything would depend upon the type of meeting, as well as the status of the meeting organizer vs. the meeting attendees.

Steven M. Smith has listed five basic meeting types:

feedforward (status reporting and new information presentations)
feedback (reacting and evaluating)

You can have a meeting with a single attendee, and the meeting can still accomplish things. How much it can accomplish, however, depends upon the status of the meeting organizer.

Why? Because if the CEO of a company calls a meeting of his or her subordinates to make a decision, the CEO is empowered to make the decision regardless of who does or does not attend.

I am not the CEO of my company, and many of the decision-making meetings that I've organized over the years have included people who outrank me. And while some companies empower subordinates, most don't. If I work at Microsoft and Steve Ballmer doesn't show up at my meeting, I can't go to him afterwards and say "Steve, here's what we're going to do."

Similarly, a planning meeting depends upon status. Planning is a managerial function, and I as a meeting organizer cannot commit my bosses to plans without their consent.

Some of the other meeting types are less dependent upon the status of the organizer and non-attendees. A problem-solving meeting, for example, is hampered if people regardless of rank are not available to help solve the problem. However, if I'm the meeting organizer and no one shows up, I could go ahead and solve the problem myself. Of course, I am liable for the consequences if my solution fails.

This brings us to the feed meetings. (Sounds like lunch.) These meetings (and, when you think of it, the other meetings) do not necessarily have to be conducted in meeting format. If I am running a project, and I want people to report the status of their tasks, I don't need to call a meeting; I can just have people email me their status. (Unless they're Generation Z or whatever you call young adults these days; those people can text me.)

So the world doesn't necessarily end if the meeting is never held. I hate meetings, but I must admit that the advantage of meetings is that you can get a bunch of people together at the same time to get something done.

In some cases, a meeting is beneficial to the asynchronous communication methods that I prefer. For example, my company has a particular process that requires a meeting. Several people thought the the subject in question was so simple that the decision could be made via email, rather than require some high-priced people to stop what they were doing and sit down around a table for an hour. Ten emails later, one participant commented that it would have been more efficient to just have a meeting in this particular case.

What is your experience with meetings vs. email collaboration? And if you're sending an SMS message to a co-worker, are smiley faces allowed?
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