There was an interesting demo at the Microsoft Build conference on the future of meetings. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend watching it here. There is a lot of compelling technology on display. Speech-to-text transcribed the meeting and automatically pulled out action items. And who can’t be wowed by the Hololens? I take it as a good example of technology-based, fixed process innovation; that is, if you keep the process of meetings fixed then here’s how we could use the next generation of technology to help.
If you look holistically at the whole issue of meetings – or even the broader issue of how teammates stay informed and create consensus – real-time spatial analysis and recording to-dos are not a huge problem. It’s a large amount of money and technology to throw at a small part of what makes meetings less productive.
When workers complain about too many meetings, they are referring to what I called “stupid meetings” in a blog post I did called “In Praise of (Good) Meetings” . As I told Brian Holak for his TechTarget article on the demo, improving stupid meetings provides as little benefit as automating out of date processes. They should be eliminated, not technologically enhanced. For most companies removing all stupid meetings would have far more benefit than all this technology being across the board, and it’s free.
Adding fancy technology doesn’t help solve the problem for stupid meetings. To put this in mathematical terms:
A stupid meeting + Augmented reality = A hilariously stupid meeting.
What would I recommend for those meetings? Content and collaboration systems, such as co-authoring in Office 365 or G Suite or wikis, provide mechanisms for observable work (or “working out loud”) that can sometimes replace the need for status meetings. Similarly, technology can help with ideation and consensus-building if those are taking up too much meeting time.
What we do in some meetings at Gartner is to have an IM backchannel that queues up questions and points attendees want to make, plus the meeting owner puts important points or findings in there for the record. That gets sent out after the meeting, so it’s not a full transcript to wade through but usually has the most important points (and the animated sideline discussions).
Even if the meeting is a good meeting, there are different types of meetings – some that lend themselves to this technology and some that should be offline. The news lately has been filled with pictures of world leaders breaking free from their meeting rooms and handlers to take a stroll and talk 1:1 while astounded journalists snap pictures and guess at what is being said. Presumably those leaders decided they really wanted to talk and some combination of being on the record and the confines of a sterile room and fixed agenda was inhibiting them.
So by all means, try to apply technology as appropriate to meetings. In some cases advanced technology such as the Hololens or a smartboard can enable meetings that wouldn’t have even been possible otherwise, which is a boon to any business. But addressing the fundamental purpose of meetings – and dividing the good from the bad – is a necessary first step.
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