publication date: Apr 16, 2012
Most meetings lack purpose, energy and brevity, says Al Pittampalli
, who describes himself
as a "meeting culture warrior." As a business tool, "It's fundamentally
broken." That means organizations can't afford to run meetings in the way that
used to work.
For a long time, he told attendees at the international
conference of the Association of
(Vancouver, April 1-3), meetings had two
purposes: making decisions and communicating information.
Who decided that
But meetings diffuse responsibility, he points out. "My
decision" becomes "our decision." The bystander effect sets in, and no
individual sees himself as responsible. That's why 50 bystanders can see a
petty crime and nobody calls the police. Meetings drive compromise, which means
that risky or bold solutions don't stand a chance. And they allow people to
stall on decisions.
In short, he says, meetings are "where you hide when you don't
want to make a decision." Speed and innovation don't come from meetings.
Organizations innovate when champions step out and do it.
No longer effective
Seventy years ago, he continues, meetings were a practical
tool for communication. You had to pull people off the factory floor to tell
them something. But now that the online world has made asynchronous
communication possible, we don't need the delay of waiting until all parties can
So who needs
We do - but a very different kind of meeting. Pittampalli
believes the modern meeting is a coordination tool. It allows the robust debate
that can't happen by email. We might need planning and launch meetings, for
example, but we don't need meetings for status updates.
In short, meetings are for coordination, not communication.
They support previously-made decisions by resolving conflict, setting up
complex collaborations, inviting only the people who are critical to the
outcome, and producing committed action plans.
"In a world without any meetings, what would you have to do?
That's the real work," he concludes.
It's also a very different kind of meeting.