These days, meetings can take place in a conference room, video-conference, web conference or Starbucks. Sometimes there is a pre-meeting BEFORE the big client meeting, just to make sure everyone is on the same page. Sometimes there is a post-meeting to discuss what you discussed. And there’s one more meeting you attend whether you like it or not… the sub-meeting.
The sub-meeting happens during your “live” meeting. It’s quiet and covert and hard to prevent. Handled poorly, it can be a big distraction. Handled well, it can save the day. Thanks to collaboration technologies like WebEx, instant messaging and mobile devices, meeting participants have the ability to communicate silently with others.
It’s the equivalent of kicking someone under the table at dinner or passing notes under the desk in grade school. Note: I got in trouble for this in school and I deserved it. The teacher expected full attention during his lecture, and I was just trying to find out from my buddy Jim if the new girl really “LIKED me, liked me.”
The same goes for a business meeting. If you’re completely checked out of the meeting and pinging your buddy for the over/under on the playoff game, you’re going to get busted when your name is called.
But consider the upside… you just heard the boss say that she wants to go around the virtual table and review each person’s part of the overall plan. You didn’t think this was happening until next Thursday. You open your draft powerpoint and chat to your friend in operations. “Have you got the last quarter results ready yet?” She chats back “Yes, but it’s rough. You want it anyway?” You beg for her to email it to you now, as your last name starts with a G and the boss loves to follow the alphabetical participant list. Voila! The day is saved, and no one got to see you panic.
Even when I attend a meeting face-to-face, I will bring my laptop and fire up the WebEx to give me access to the sub-meeting. It helps me round up latecomers, chat with colleagues for clarification, take screen captures of slides, google stuff and bring other experts in. The sub-meeting keeps me productive and quite frankly saves my butt over and over again.
My generation may have grown up with politeness and total eye contact, but Gen Y is wired for multi-tasking. I say embrace it and make it work for you. What do you think? Is it OK to be in two meetings at the same time?