Sunday, July 01, 2007

Q: What’s a good way to enhance meeting productivity?

A: Strong type the conversation.

Time is money, just ask any manager that has put a group of people in a room for an hour in order to make a decision. What do you get? Yak, yak, yak, yak, some wah, wah, wah, wah and just maybe a decision, just maybe.

One of the things that I've noticed about nonproductive business meetings is that many times a question of one type will be asked and an answer of another type will be given.

For example, someone may ask, “Do you think that buying widgets from FooCo is a good thing to do”?

And, someone will answer, “I’ve am not happy with FooCo. The company charges a lot for its widgets and their quality is questionable.”

Talk about a type mismatch. The question in play is yes/no. The answer is free form text. The person asking the question wants a return type of bool; the person answering gives free text. The question goes unanswered. In the world of strongly typed programming languages, we’d have a compiler error: type mismatch.

Run time errors run rampant in business meetings. Lots of talk, no information, questions with mismatched answers, marginal results. It’s amazing that any business gets done at all.

So wanna have fun? The next time you are in a meeting try this. Say, “I am going to ask a question. There is one of three answers available, yes, no, or I don’t know. Please answer accordingly.”

Or try this: “I am going to ask a question that requires that you provide a whole number between 1 and 3000, please answer accordingly.” (This is what we in the programming trade call a return type of integer.)

Or this, “I am going to ask a question, please answer in no more than ten words”.

And don’t be a pansy. If you ask for yes, no, I don’t know and get a number or free form text, throw an error. You’ll save time and money, and you might have more talk that has the information necessary to have a productive meeting.

Or you can say nothing, open your notepad and work on your doodling.