Moving meetings beyond one-size-fits-all

David Saul, Managing Director of &Meetings, explains the importance of the correct meeting format and the benefits of exploring different approaches

When Wired, the publication that coined the phrase ‘crowdsourcing’ – which describes the process of obtaining services or ideas by soliciting contributions from an online community – begins to question whether technology is ‘disconnecting’ rather than ‘connecting’ us, perhaps it’s time to take note.

While crowdsourcing is a prime example of technology facilitating collaborative endeavor, the recent article by Nilofer Merchant on how to stage effective meetings, argues that the “absence of a device” is necessary to create an environment in which people can give their full attention to the issues being discussed.

In fact, Merchant doesn’t just believe technology is getting in the way of effective meetings – she believes the fact that they’re all too often held in meeting rooms is actually one of the major problems. She prefers “walking meetings”, in which participants walk side-by-side and discuss ideas.

It’s an interesting concept, but I’m not entirely convinced that a meeting will always be more productive because of the absence of technology or the fact that the participants are walking.

Instead, I believe the more important point to take away from the article is that a one-size-fits-all approach to meetings is misguided – different formats and settings will be more suitable depending on the issues being discussed and the requirements of the meeting participants.

Of course, there are some fairly general rules about successful meetings – the ability to concentrate on the topic being discussed, free from noisy distractions, will nearly always be important.

And, when it comes to technology, we should acknowledge its power to connect us while recognising that it doesn’t always achieve this aim and can be a distraction.

However, there are almost certainly examples of technology enabling greater interaction between colleagues than would have otherwise been possible, such as in the instance of dispersed freelancers collaborating on a project via video conferencing.

Furthermore, research underlines the added value offered by video conferencing, which has been shown to improve concentration – with participants able to focus on a discussion for an average of 35 minutes, compared to only 23 minutes on a telephone call.

A readiness to develop the correct meeting format and deploy technology intelligently is key to staging engaging and productive meetings. Such a move will make effective collaboration between different teams a walk in the park.

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