Here's something that everyone in business can agree on. Most meetings are simply terrible: boring, pointless and a waste of time.
But before you boycott meetings altogether, consider this perspective from Don Norman, the psychologist and industrial designer.
In his book, The Design of Future Things, Mr. Norman writes about the problem of one-way experiences. For example, many machines (including navigation systems) are not truly interactive.
To make his point, Mr. Norman cites the Greek philosopher Socrates.
"Two thousand years ago, Socrates argued that the book would destroy people's ability to reason," Mr. Norman writes. "He believed in dialogue, in conversation and debate. But with a book, there is no debate: the written word cannot answer back.
"Today, the book is such a symbol of learning and knowledge that we laugh at this argument. But take it seriously for a moment . . . Socrates's point is valid: a technology that gives no opportunity for discussion, explanation, or debate is a poor technology."
What does this have to do with meetings? Stay with us here, as Mr. Norman goes on to reflect on his own experience as a business executive and as a chair of university departments.
He's learned that "the process of making a decision is often more important than the decision itself. When a person makes decisions without explanation or consultation, people neither trust nor like the result, even if it is the identical course of action they would have taken after discussion or debate."
The best way to involve people? Invite them to a meeting.
Mr. Norman writes, "Many business leaders ask, 'Why waste time with meetings when the end result will be the same?' But the end result is not the same, for although the decision itself is identical, they way it will be carried and executed and, perhaps most importantly, the way it will be handled if things do not go as planned will be very different with a collaborating, understanding team than with one that is just following orders."
Of course, a traditional meeting--at which one person presents and everyone else fights off sleep--is as bad as no meeting at all.
For a meeting to be meaningful, it has to be carefully planned to create real interaction. When you facilitate real dialogue and give people an active role, suddenly a "boring meeting" becomes time well spent.