If you looked at the typical diary of a manager, you might think that the primary purpose of managers is to meet.
Perhaps — in the era of poor communication — it needed to be. In the twenty-first century, with all our information and communication technologies, we need to rethink this.
Why you should meet
A good meeting — one you should be part of — is one where a decision must be made.
Decisions involve two (and only two) circumstances. Either there is no obviously correct course of action to follow — or there are two or more equally plausible courses that are mutually exclusive (you can do one, but that involves not doing the other).
The meeting’s purpose is therefore to discuss the elements to support one course of action or another, and then to render the decision, so that all go away away and implement that choice.
These can generally only be done together. Some participants may need to tie in by speakerphone or videoconferencing, but the session is run to elicit views and reach an agreement. Distractions should be kept out (holster your smartphone, ignore email on your tablet/pad).
The other reason you should meet is for personnel issues. 93% of communication occurs when two people are together: the other 7% is in the words (e.g. telephone, email, text, etc.). All managers should have more time for their people than their people need from them.
Why not to meet
In today’s world, meeting to replay routine status items that can be communicated via a wiki, document, email, etc. makes no sense. It is a waste of everyone’s time.
IT should build out resources to facilitate routine status, and knowledge of that status. Project status, for instance, should roll up to the project manager, who in turn loads a management dashboard with relevant information. (A traffic light system for “budget” and “schedule”, for instance, with a short explanation of something bad, would do.) Requests for decisions can likewise be highlighted.
Instant messaging, desktop video, there are many tools that can be deployed to aid in communication. Despite my earlier comment about keeping distractions out of meetings, in general people at work should be immediately able to be contacted: ask the question, end the discussion, move on. In turn, employees should be able to offer a “virtual closed door” by booking time where they are not interruptible in their calendars.
(Peter Drucker, in The Effective Executive, talked about blocking executive time — ninety minute blocks to work or meet, followed by thirty minute blocks of unplanned time to communicate. Being more structured about unstructured interruptions would allow more work to be done, while preserving introverts’ need for solitude to work — and many IT people are introverted intuitionals that require that unbroken time to be highly productive.)
It may seem like a little thing, whether or not to meet. In reality, it is the engine that will drive success.