Posted by: phynbarr | May 21, 2008

Meetings and Laptops

There have been conversations doing the rounds at work about the heart-sinking effect of walking into a meeting to see that many, if not all, of the participants have their laptops up tapping away.

As facilitator I have found that even with well-established ground rules and a co-operative client, it still happens.

In the “old” days before the ubiquity of wireless, I had a colleague who used to go round and pull out the ethernet cables.  My approach was less – shall we say – directive, but the aim was the same.  To try and keep focus in the room and reduce, if not remove, distractions.  And, of course, with Blackberries and iPhones and the like, the problem multiplies and becomes less observable

When challenged, those behind the laptops say things like

  • “I spend so much time at meetings, I’d never get any work done if I didn’t log on”
  • “There’s a crisis, I need to be kept informed”
     – you don’t rely on your staff to deal with it?
  • “I’m only required for slot 3 out of 5, the rest of the day is nothing to me”

Presenteeism at its most blatant.

Pondering on this, I believe there are at least two sources for this phenomen.  The first is the organisational culture.  If those at the top “multi-task”, duck in and out of meetings, are distracted by day to day matters, how will those who aspire to join their ranks behave? 

Of course

And then there’s the poor design and running of a meeting.  The mindset that thinks a conference call is no more than calling six people. (and don’t get me started on conference calls).  And calling a meeting is just having a question and getting people in a room without thinking through how you are going to navigate to the answer (s).

Now you could say is that, as a facilitator, I would say that wouldn’t I?  Weeeell, yes I may be more aware.   The other side of that coin is that I can offer expertise and ask questions intended to make you think not only about what you want to do but how you’re going to get there.  Really simple things can make such a huge difference.

How often have I heard “Well, we won’t have introductions” only to have people coming up in breaks to ask who so-and-so is or who was the last speaker.  Besides which, it’s a basic human need to know who you’re talking to, especially in organisational areas with very specialist knowledge.  “How much do I trust this person?”  “How much experience do they actually have”  “Is it relevant?”

The other side of that is forgetting that introductions take time.  I’ve frequently seen 5 minutes set aside for introduction only to point out that if each one of 30 people talk for a minute, that’s at least half an hour gone.

And we’ve only just begun in design, there’s so much more to consider.  When we get to the actual running of a meeting there’s more.


So what have you encountered in facilitating groups?  What tools and techniques have you implemented that made a difference? And what advice would you offer? Or like to have?


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