Preparing for a meeting has two phases. In the first you decide whether a meeting is necessary. In the second phase you act on the decision to have a meeting.
First Phase – will a meeting work?
Meetings are notoriously unproductive and everyone knows it. Without a lot of planning and effort, meetings can waste a lot of time. Therefore it seems sensible to consider all alternatives to having a meeting before selecting such an inefficient tool. Could some other process produce the same results with less effort?
How about circulating a document that raises the questions and discussion points that would have been on a meeting agenda? Everyone is invited to add their comments relating to each issue in a round robin style of debate.
After a few rounds, the instigator collates the comments and tries to draw conclusions from the debate. If there is no conclusion, the debate continues.
Using an ‘iterative document’ allows everyone to have their say in an orderly way. Unfortunately the process can be slow and not everyone likes to put their comments in writing.
Whose time is being saved?
My experience has been that iterative documents can work very well. They are popular in organizations that recognize the real cost of meetings and where decision makers are widely dispersed. They may not save the meeting owner any time, but they certainly can save the organization time and money.
When a meeting owner is expected to pay for the time of everyone at a meeting, plus their travel costs, alternatives to conventional meetings start to look good.
At the root of any decision should be a comparison of the costs and benefits of meetings versus the alternatives. How can decisions be reached without meeting? What are the alternatives, pros and cons, costs and benefits?
The problem is that the metrics for this type of comparison are sadly lacking. The logic is sound, but the analysis is necessarily biased. It would be nice if systematic comparison were possible.
So you decide to have a meeting. What comes next?