| About Me

Meetings vs Documents

A common topic of discussion is whether meetings should be used for information distribution or only discussion.

Probably the most famous example of a conclusion on this is the Amazon approach (documented in working backwards) where all meetings begin with some form of document and 15 minutes silence for people to read followed by discussion.

I'm a strong advocate of this approach but wanted to be better able to explain why I believe it's applicable to most situations and what's different about the small subset of exceptions.

So I attempted to break down the factors which play into it and what I believe is different between the possible approaches.

Document Meeting Document + Meeting
Organiser Prep Time 2 hours 15 mins 2 hours
Collaboration Time / person 15mins 45mins 1 hour
Comprehension 50% 20% 75%
Re usability 100% 0% 75%
Alignment + 1 hour 50% 75% 95%
Alignment + 1 day 50% 30% 95%
Alignment + 7 days 40% 20% 85%
Alignment + 1 Month 30% 5% 75%

In this model I've suggested there are 3 main results we're likely to be looking for:

  1. Comprehension, e.g. at time of processing, how much of what was being communicated are participants likely to understand
  2. Re-usability, e.g. to what extent are others able to re-use the effort expended to understand the same topic
  3. Alignment, e.g. to what extent do the participants come away with the same understanding. This is separate to comprehension in that it includes clarifications and requests for additional information the organiser may not have immediately provided

I've then suggested that alignment shouldn't be thought of as binary and measured at the end of the meeting, it should be thought about as a curve which changes (decays) over time.

So we're not just asking "how well does this initially align people" we're asking "to what extent is this a good way to achieve alignment over a given time period."

My observations if you believe in this model were:

  1. If your only goal is comprehension, e.g. pure information sharing, meetings on there own will always perform less well than either a document or a document + a discussion meeting
  2. If alignment needs to persist over any period of time of more than a day, then a document or a document + discussion meeting will always tend to perform better
  3. If alignment purely relates to actions being taken immediately, e.g. over a period of less than 1 day, then a meeting on its own will tend to perform better than a document on its own. A document + meeting will probably still outperform both but given the short time horizon it may make sense to avoid the preparation overhead

So examples of where a meeting alone may be preferable to a document driven approach are things like stand ups, plan for the day and incident response type meetings where alignment is only need to persist at a high level for < 24 hours.

For anything other than this a document or a document + discussion meeting will probably perform better.

This does not take into account the standalone benefits of "writing is thinking" if you subscribe to that view (I do).