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Topless meetings for team focus?

When it's hard to stay focused, try going 'topless' to meetings - San Jose Mercury News

Our good pals over at Adaptive Path have been experimenting with banning laptops and other communication devices in meetings (something I've supported in the past). From today's Mercury News:

Frustrated by distracted workers so plugged in that they tune out in the middle of business meetings, a growing number of companies are going "topless," as in no laptops allowed. Also banned from some conference rooms: BlackBerrys, iPhones and other personal devices on which so many have come to depend...

But as laptops have gotten lighter and smart-phones even smarter, people have discovered a handy diversion, making more eye contact these days with their screens than one another. The practice became so pervasive that Todd Wilkens turned to his company blog to wage his "personal war against CrackBerry..."

His San Francisco design firm, Adaptive Path, now strongly encourages everyone to leave their laptops at their desks. His colleague, Dan Saffer, coined the term "topless" as in "laptop-less." Also booted are mobile and smart-phones, which must be stowed on a counter or in a box during meetings. It took some convincing, but soon people began connecting with one another rather than with their computers, Wilkens said.

"All of our meetings got a lot more productive," he said.

[via Dan Saffer]

The Question to You

Has your team tried some version of topless meetings? How did it work for you? Anybody tried it and given up? How did the meetings change without the toys being on?

Liz Williams's picture

the myth of multi-tasking, the tragedy that is powerpoint

I love meetings, which puts me in the minority, I suspect. But I don't suffer fools in mine, and I design them to involve and energize everybody and result in action.

So a couple things to to add here:

  1. Multi-tasking is a myth. When you step out of the flow, it will take you a minimum of 15 minutes to re-engage it. Even computers suffer from this, although they re-up more quickly than humans. Laptops in meetings destroy any possibility of a productive meeting.

  2. Individual records and action lists are a disaster waiting to happen. Best practice here is "group memory" which helps everyone agree to what was decided and stay on the same page. Otherwise everyone leaves the meeting to pursue their interpretation of what happened. Which results in the deja vu meeting: The meeting to decide what we already decided. This is hell on crack.

  3. Presentations, including those using powerpoint to flash text or graphs on a screen, can give you no better than a 5% retention rate and are an utter waste of time. I force my presenters to pass out a 1-page summary of their key points before they present and I limit them to 10 or fewer slides and no more than 5 mins of presenting before they take questions. Simple interaction ups the retention rate to 50%, a much better use of time. And, you can design in an even higher retention rate. Retention leads to follow-through and commitment and cohesion. It's more fun too.

  4. Adults learn and contribute best when the info is relevant to them and they are involved. If the info in the meeting is boss-based and not participant-based, it's likely to be an exercise and participants will find a way - any way - to check out. So, tell me what we're trying to accomplish and tell me why my participation matters - better yet, let me tell you. What? We're not trying to accomplish something? Then, uh...?

Why not ban computers for everybody - presenters and participants alike? They haven't helped make meetings better, only longer, more deadly and much more choppy. A better is to make the issue of electronics irrelevant.

Meetings are for interaction. When they're well-designed, well-run and focused on topics that engage the participants, they are noisy, boisterous and result in focused follow-through. These kind of meetings are fun and energizing. Why isn't everyone having them?




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