How to improve meetings

I have heard of or experienced the following ideas for improving the running of meetings:

1. Make everyone stand up until the meeting is over.

2. Make everyone talk on the phone, even if you are in adjacent offices.

3. Give everyone a chess clock to limit the number of minutes they are allowed to speak for (this is a variant of an idea from Robin Hanson. Read here for some commentary.

4. Lock the door when the meeting starts on time and do not allow latecomers to enter.

Or how about this idea, channeled through Randall Parker:

Aided by tiny sensors and transmitters called a PAL (Personal Assistance Link) your machine (with your permission) will become an anthroscope – an investigator of your up-to-the-moment vital signs, says Sandia project manager Peter Merkle. It will monitor your perspiration and heartbeat, read your facial expressions and head motions, analyze your voice tones, and correlate these to keep you informed with a running account of how you are feeling – something you may be ignoring – instead of waiting passively for your factual questions. It also will transmit this information to others in your group so that everyone can work together more effectively.

So perhaps a bunch of buzzers go off when somebody says something confusing. Or the boss knows when no one is paying attention.

I’m all for voluntary experimentation, but let’s not forget what many meetings are about. Meetings are not always about the efficient exchange of information, or discovering a new idea. Meetings can be about displays of power, signaling that a coalition is in place, wearing down an opponent, staging “theater” to make someone feel better, giving key players the feeling of being insiders, transmitting information about status, or simply marking time until something better happens. It’s one thing to hate meetings. But before you can improve them, make sure you know what meetings are all about.


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