When Meetings At Work Do Not Work

Written on 2023-03-23 • conversation

A teacher once scratched the following schema on a blackboard:

A sequence of 2, 3 and 4 orbs, with arrows connecting each orb in two directions

He taught me three things:

1. One more person in a conversation creates an exponentially1 harder communication challenge;
2. visuals stick;
3. a good teacher is invaluable.

Every dot in this schema represents a person, and every line represents a relationship. Let’s say one relationship equals to one unit of effort. If you add one person, the amount of effort in a conversation grows from two to six. Add another and it grows from six to twelve.

It’s fascinating. At five people, the amount of effort in a conversation has grown to twenty! People will zone out, or form side-conversations. They isolate the amount of relationships to maintain. Meetings become classrooms, sans teacher. Chaos. No-meeting factions, pro-meeting factions. One guy in the corner is eating glue.

Slack has entered the chat.

Chat changes everything. Chat allows people to not fill dead space with random thoughts. Chat allows people to form side-conversations. It allows people to maintain relationships more easily. Chat reduces the amount of effort even in very large groups of people.

It is okay to post your thoughts or a question in a channel of 10, 100 or 1000 people. You are not asking everyone to pay attention. And when you do need attention, you can mention people explicitly. Those who have a moment to read, can learn. Others can prioritize their own work.

And sometimes you still need meetings. The path forward?

1. If there are more than four people in the meeting, it is a classroom;
2. bring visuals if you want anything to stick;
3. make way for good teachers.

1 Okay not exactly exponentially but n2-n

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