Imagine this: you get a meeting request.  How do you feel if that request is: A. From a group or one person; B. Does or doesn’t have an agenda; C. If it has an agenda, it is about work or just information transfer? These are the things I want to know about meetings, because I tend to question whether a meeting is the best use of the time (as do many others -- see this post from GigaOM's Charles Hamilton). A meeting is an expensive organizational act, yet it is rarely given the attention, before, during, or after, that would parallel that cost. I’m all for transparency in organizations. I’m all for meetings where significant work is done or huge energy is transferred. Unfortunately work and energy require thoughtful planning and execution and those meetings seem to be in the minority. Let’s change that! I’ll quote from a prior post:

There should be no meeting without a true goal. If you can’t describe what’s to be done (work session, get-in-synch [perhaps after a glitch], etc.), then you’re not yet ready for the session. If you don’t know the goal, then you can’t provide the description and/or an agenda, and the participants have no way of coming prepared. You are doomed.

Note that I haven’t said these claims vary by whether we are talking about a face-to-face meeting or one where more or all of the members will attend virtually. The issues remain the same: Have a goal that is best supported by a meeting mode of collaboration or don’t have a meeting. What are the alternatives to meetings?  Luis Suarez (an IBMer and collaboration innovator) offers this in his blog:

Embrace passive methods of collaboration: That’s where I have moved to nowadays; instead of having meeting after meeting, I have managed to encourage folks to collaborate offline, preparing the outcome of some of meetings in such way that with the usage of social software tools we are finding out that most of those meetings are redundant anyway, because we can already work on the outputs in a collaborative manner offline. And rather effectively. So one consequence of doing this is that for most of the meetings and conference calls I attend nowadays they have gone from the default one hour to 30 to 45 minutes long, where we just basically close off pending to-dos and other action items, instead of meandering in everlasting discussions with nothing happening....

There are hurdles to this approach: Even if you are the team lead or the acknowledged facilitator for this particular meeting, you are not 100% in control. Habits die hard and you will have to make an issue around new perspectives on meetings for change to occur. At a minimum, request agendas when one is absent (may be the best you can do if the request is from your boss). Better (with peers, subordinates, vendors), decline with a comment any request that doesn’t come with an agenda that shows that clear value from your attendance. Your comment can include a request for an agenda, a suggestion for another collaboration mode, suggestion for someone else to invite who would add better value than you would, or the remark that you may be better able to add value in some other form. Be tough. Be creative. Think carefully about your people, your technology, and your methods. Is meeting really your best option?