Is This Meeting Really Necessary?

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Personal Productivity for Lawyers

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In my last post, I wrote about how to conduct an effective meeting, but last week I attended a meeting that reminded me that the first question you should ask when planning a meeting is, “Is this meeting really necessary, or can we accomplish the same goals in a different way?”

The meeting I attended was a planning meeting for an upcoming event. It was not our first meeting. The basic roles and responsibilities had already been assigned and we were merely working out details and final structure. Unfortunately, only half of those involved actually attended the meeting. And although we were all traveling from different locations at the end of a long workday (I traveled 30 minutes each way), the meeting lasted only 10 minutes. I left frustrated that the meeting organizer had not considered handling the meeting in a different way, which would not only have avoided the hour wasted in the car, but may also have allowed the other participants to be present.

I have written about the virtues of ‘old school’ communication, the human touch and face to face meetings on Lawyerist, and I realize that at times, an in-person meeting is the most effective way (and sometimes the only way) to get the participants to focus on the task at hand or to forge relationships. But there are also times when a meeting is simply the wrong tool for the job.

Sometimes we get carried away with technology, using it in ways that are ineffective or inappropriate, but when technology can help save time and money and still accomplish the same goals, use it

The virtual meeting

In a meeting in which the participants know one another and the meeting is held just to confirm roles, responsibilities, next steps or to report status and gain consensus, consider holding a ‘virtual’ meeting by conference call, video chat, webinar or even instant message. The meeting I attended last week could just as easily have been conducted by telephone conference and accomplished the same goals.

This summer, I had the pleasure of appearing as a guest on a popular podcast on the Legal Talk Network, the Kennedy-Mighell report with Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Since Tom, Dennis and I are all in different states (and in some instances, different time zones) an in person planning meeting was obviously out of the question. Initially, we exchanged emails to decide on the specific topic for the program and then shared bullet points we each felt were important to the discussion. Then it was time for the final planning meeting.

We could have held a web conference, but since seeing each other was not necessary, we opted to ‘meet’ by instant message via Skype. It was the same kind of meeting I had last week, and it was just as productive, except the only time I needed to devote to the meeting was the actual time we were ‘chatting’ via IM. There was no travel time involved, and no waiting for others to show up on time for the meeting.

Do we need a meeting at all?

If you are just confirming previously determined items, imparting information to the group or simply seeking a status from those involved, perhaps a meeting is not necessary at all. In lieu of a meeting, consider setting up a project in Basecamp or some other program which would allow participants to post the status of their portion of the project, or simply exchange emails or create a document in Google docs where participants can report the status.

In short, choose the right tool for the job. It may not always be a meeting.

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  • I agree 100%, especially where the meeting is held to poll members for progress reports, discuss upcoming to-do items, etc. What do you think of using Google Wave as a free alternative to something like Basecamp? Would it be something just as good and available to everyone (at least those willing to learn how to use it)? I have thought about implementing it myself, but the task of getting everyone on board with it has been daunting.

  • Looove it.

    @Steven: Didn’t Google Wave get axed? I would agree with you though that it is the right idea. Hopefully Google can regurgitate it in a better form.

  • @Danny: Gaaagh, you’re right! Missed that! The article I just read on its discontinuance kinda hit the nail on the head: learning curve and unclear application. I would agree with you that if Google can rework it in a better form, something more akin to Basecamp, they will really have something there!