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Meetings and Play-Dates January 24, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
Tags: , ,

Curious about “collaboration” as a buzzword, I Googled the phrase “collaboration without”.

The first four suggestions were:

You can also collaborate without email, limits, headaches, chaos, costs, co-location, and even – inexplicably – head shaving.  To our credit, we cannot apparently have collaboration without communication nor common values.  Seems logical enough.

This got me thinking; is it possible to have collaboration without meetings?  Of course, collaboration is defined by two or more people working together toward a common goal.  One would naturally assume that at least one “meeting” would be required somewhere in the process.

But if a meeting is defined as a formal session with a clear start and end, along with other niceties, I think it is perfectly reasonable to do without them.  What would this look like, and why is it important?

I’ve observed many people, sheltered in their cubicles, who believe that any human interaction during their workday is taking them away from the “real work”.  Any commitment outside their box must be received and accepted via Outlook.  Sad to say, but this attitude is probably causing them more grief than they are trying to avoid in the first place – not to mention bringing down overall productivity.

By demanding (whether from the employee’s or employer’s perspective) formal meeting agendas and set time commitments, the organization is forced to have such things as “pre-pre-meeting meetings”.  This is getting out of hand.  I know of no organization that can function without regular human interactions – formal or not.  It seems, rather, that many organizations have become groups of individuals who must have their entire days scheduled as if they were play-dates.

The problem is that collaboration, design, science, and even basic conversation is messy.  It does not conform to schedules, timetables, and clear agendas.  Don’t get me wrong – agendas have their place; the bigger the meeting, the more important they are.  But for daily interactions, sometimes you just have to go down the hall, pick up the phone, or (dare I say, as a last resort) send the email – no pre-meeting agenda required.

This means that those recurring meetings may not be required if no one has anything to share.  And they may not if, during the week, they have informally sat down together as groups of two or three to work out a resolution or a plan.  If your job requires synthesizing, analyzing, recommending, or planning based around some set of information, you don’t have to wait for the meeting to get it.



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As the author of the head-shaving reference, let me explain: in post-World War II France, women suspected of collaborating with the enemy (mostly, having had German lovers) had their heads shaved as a mark of shame. This meaning of “collaboration” has been superseded in most contemporary discussions, but as those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it, we should all keep that other meaning in mind.

Jason - January 24, 2012

Most excellent! I enjoy learning things like that – and all the more so that you have made reference to that meaning. I wonder how many people know the etymology. Thanks for being “what I learned today”!

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