Any real meeting, where decisions are being made (e.g. not a status meeting) should require people’s full attention. If people are voluntarily comfortable half reading e-mail and half-listening, it’s an indicator to me that:
- There are too many people in the room.
- Few decisions are being made.
- I’m failing to facilitate the discussion to keep it on target.
- The information being conveyed is low priority.
- I’m wasting f2f time with information I could deliver in other ways.
If I allow this to go on, I encourage passive attention in meetings, further allowing stupid people to prattle on about low priority things, which further encourages more people to tune out. As as Steven M. Smith points out, the blackberry use is a symptom of bad meetings, not the cause. The person running the meeting is the place to point the finger (who is responsible for answering the question is this type of meeting right for the agenda we have?).
Instead, I believe in making attendance at meetings binary. Either you are in, or you are out. If the meeting is too boring to keep your attention, then it’s a good sign to both of us that you do not need to be in the room – so get up and leave. Most meetings should be optional anyway: you don’t have to come, but don’t cry if we decide something you wanted to have input on.
Moreso, 95% of the time what people claim to be urgent status is stuff that can wait. Call bullshit on people. Unless they’re heart surgeons, or front line web people, the world can wait 20 or 30 minutes for the meeting to end for them to get to whatever it is. The web will wait. IM will wait. It can all wait for you if you have your shit together. This is doubly true for leads and managers: if they’re managing their teams well, they should have subordinates who can be effective for a few hours without their hands being held. Most managers should be embarrassed, not proud, to be in hyper-crackberry panic mode all the time.
However, if we’re talking status meetings, where 15 or 20 people are all crammed into a room, that’s another story. These are often a waste of time, but if you must have them, the arguments for passive attention have more weight.
I like Todd’s list of recommendations – worth a look.