Saturday, April 28, 2007

Automatic shushing, loud sirens, and meeting metrics

Drawing of meeting going awryI was in a discussion about information that would be useful for the participants of a meeting, when I thought of some unconventional ways of improving the quality of meetings in general.

A combination of collaboration tools and VoIP conferencing systems could be used to collect statistics about the people doing the talk during meetings. Why not unleash their power to change the way we participate on meetings at a cultural level?

Just imagine if this readily available or easily collectable information was made public:

Chairing quality

What if you had access to some metrics about a meeting chair before accepting an invitation?

Imagine if these metrics were collected in a confidential manner and disclosed to the entire company.
  • Effectiveness: Ratio of agenda-per-meeting and minutes-per-meeting issued by the chair.
  • Credibility: Grade from 0 to 10 (10 being the highest) given by participants to the meetings called by this chair, based on objective criteria such as "adherence to the agenda", "time management", "minutes accuracy", "minutes timeliness", and others.
People are certainly going to be worried about misuse of the information, but I am more worried about abuses that cause the tragedy of the calendars.

If the chair and participants are working closely and holding ad-hoc conversations, they should have access to some "not applicable" check buttons when scheduling and evaluation meetings.

Speaker being pulled out of classroomParticipation quality

Wouldn't it be fantastic to have access to the following information about meeting participants?
  • Talk-O-Meter: Amount of talk-time for each participant in recent meetings.
  • Bad-Manners-O-Meter: Number of times a participant spoke over for more than 5 seconds while another participant was still talking.
The last two metrics could be used by meeting chairs while deciding who should be called for a meeting. A good collaboration tool could even popup an "Argument-O-Meter" warning about too many people with high "Talk-O-Meter" and "Bad-Manners-O-Meter" indexes invited for the same meeting.

The rise of the machines

As with any monitoring activity, the next logical step is automation :-) One could create a "Meeting Quality Monitor" application and plug it into mainstream VoIP conferencing systems. This monitor would take automatic action based on the metrics above.

Some basic actions would be to mute the phone of the speaker if his "Talk-O-Meter" index exceeded a certain limit. If the meeting was being held in person, a loud siren or shushing sound would do the trick.

The "Bad-Manners-O-Meter" index could be used in a more proactive manner. In a phone conference, the system could be put in "strict" or "educational" mode. In "strict" mode, the same muting or shushing actions would be employed; whereas in "educational" mode, the system would just interrupt the meeting altogether and admonish the offender. It is much more convenient for a chair to let a machine reprimand a demonstrably argumentative person than try and do it himself.

Anyway, the possibilities would be endless, and fun!

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