Face-To-Face Meetings: Online vs. Offline?

Don't Allow Notebooks At Business Meetings
Don’t Allow Notebooks At Business Meetings

How many of you have seen this: you’ve called a technical face to face meeting to resolve some key product issues. You’ve carefully coordinated the meeting time with everyone’s schedules and you’ve been sure to make sure that you’ve included folks from all impacted departments. Imagine your joy when you see that just about everyone has actually shown up for your meeting. Imagine your disappointment when everyone whips out their laptops, powers up. gets a wired/wireless connection, and *poof* they mentally vanish.

So why are we having this meeting? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in one of these meetings when someone gets asked a question, looks up from their laptop and says “I’m sorry, I was working on my email. Can you repeat the question?” I generally don’t really like meetings all that much and it’s events like this that cause them to take way too long. If you introduce IM into the equation, then you have folks in your meeting merrily typing away in one or more active conversations even while your meeting is going on. Arrgh! Why did they even bother to come?

So what’s a product manger to do? Stomping your feet, rolling around on the floor, and shaking your finger at offenders are all possibilities; however, I’m not thinking that they will really accomplish the goal. What is the goal? To have a face-to-face meeting with all parties attending participating and engaged in the conversation and problem solving. This is a huge problem and we have yet to really work out the social issues that it brings up. For example, if your boss attends and opens his/her laptop, then what are you going to say to him/her?

I don’t have any magic solutions, but one powerful force that you can bring to bear is peer pressure. If before the meeting occurs you loudly and clearly tell everyone that the use of laptops and Blackberrys will be banned during the meeting, then nobody can really object. If you hold the line and actually kick out active Blackberry users that will also send a clear message. Careful though — if they don’t leave, then you will have lost face with the rest of the attendees. Finally, make you meetings exciting and engaging. People do other tasks because they are bored. If you remove the boredom, they may even forget about their laptops/Blackberrys/iPhones for at least awhile.