The Atomic Structure of Meetings
2 min read

The Atomic Structure of Meetings

People. Teams. Decisions. Updates. Reports. Documents. Whiteboards. Backlogs. Meetings have many components to them, but what's at the core? I'd like to propose the most important atom in the structure of meetings: Information.

We're sharing it. We're creating it. We're disagreeing about it. We're challenging it. We're confirming it. Most meetings on my calendar have a central element and that element is information. How useful is this observation? Well, that depends on what we choose to do with it.

If we follow the life-cycle of a unit of information, there's a bit of a journey it goes through.

  1. Information has to get created. It had to come from somewhere! Maybe I had a thought. Maybe you had an observation. Maybe we ran a workshop and made a decision as a group. Regardless of where information came from, at some point, all information had to be created.
  2. Information has to get synthesized. A thought by itself is fuzzy and messy and hard to communicate. The synthesis step of the information journey takes the fuzzy hairball and turns it into something concise, understandable, and most importantly, easily communicated. (Sometimes people forget that last step.)
  3. Information has to get tested. Is this valid? Is this meaningful? Is this true? The rise of misinformation aside, ALL information needs to get put through its paces to see how it holds up. We don't want a group of highly-paid professionals to be venturing down a path governed by bad information.
  4. Information has to get shared. Information that exists only in my head is not useful to the rest of the organization or my teammates. Information without sharing is as useful as an unread book on a shelf.
  5. Information leads to action. Information should be driving behavior. A phrase I like to hear people say is, "I made the best decision with the information I had available to me at that time." Great! That's how we should behave. If there's an absence of information, go back to step 1 and create some.

Those five steps above create an interesting framework we can use around meeting design. Is the purpose of this meeting to share information? Is it to create information? Is it to make a decision based off of information? Is it to test or challenge what we think we know? I don't think this is an exhaustive list, but it's a starting point for us.

Depending on the purpose for the meeting, we can better design our interactions. As a quick example, if the point of a meeting is to simply share that I learned about a new compensation plan, it might be a better use of time for me to thoughtfully write out what I've learned and share a document that my peers can read and interact with. This type of information sharing doesn't need to be synchronous, and reading a document allows my peers the opportunity to fully digest the content before reacting. How many times do we get 2 sentences into a conversation when someone asks a question you're going to cover 5 sentences later? The written approach helps remediate that.

I'm sure to create a lot more content on this topic. I think it's incredibly important to modern collaboration, sure, but also for the mental health of our thought-workers. Meetings are overhead, so let's do them well.

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