Selecting the Right (Meeting) Tool for the Job

I screwed up. The other day, I recommended the use of a collaboration tool in a meeting without being sufficiently mindful of the purpose of the meeting and the history of the participants. As a result, the meeting wasn’t as successful as it might have been.

The Host’s Responsibilities

As meeting designers and hosts, we’re obligated to provide clear answers to three fundamental questions:

  • Purpose—what is the desired outcome of the meeting?
  • People—who needs to be “in the room” to achieve the purpose?
  • Process—what is the minimum set of tools and procedures required for these people to achieve this purpose?

The meeting in question had a clear purpose, and it included the right people. However, I failed to honor the precedence of Purpose > People > Process. That is, I selected a meeting tool because it had worked for other people in meetings having a similar purpose. The differences were enough to matter.

Lessons Learned

A facilitation process or collaboration tool used in a meeting have value in context, and the context is determined by the purpose of, and people in, each individual meeting. My takeaways from this learning opportunity included the following: 

Focus on purpose and people. Be mindful of process design and tool selection.

Make sure the tool fits the job. In this case, the key advantage of the tool I recommended was the accessibility that made it suitable for ad hoc teams. That wasn’t necessary in this case, because the workgroup already had a history of working together with a familiar set of collaboration tools. There wasn’t a compelling reason to introduce a new tool.

Novelty has a cost. Even well-designed, intuitive technologies have a learning curve. That requires scarce time and energy. Before introducing a new tool, be sure that the benefits of using it clearly outweigh the costs.

Don’t switch horses midstream…unless it’s truly necessary. This meeting was one in a series. A precedent had been set regarding the use of a tool that was good enough in context. There is a cost to switching, too.