A meeting still performs functions that will never be taken over by telephones, teleprinters, Xerox copiers, tape recorders, television monitors, or any other technological instruments of the information revolution.
We all know who we are—whether we are on the board of Universal International, in the overseas sales department of Flexitube, Inc., a member of the school management committee, on the East Hampton football team, or in Section No. Every group creates its own pool of shared knowledge, experience, judgment, and folklore.
But the pool consists only of what the individuals have experienced or discussed as a group—i.e., those things which every individual knows that all the others know, too.
So the simple business of exchanging information and ideas that members have acquired separately or in smaller groups since the last meeting is an important contribution to the strength of the group.
By questioning and commenting on new contributions, the group performs an important “digestive” process that extracts what’s valuable and discards the rest.
They may regret that they were not followed, but they accept the outcome.
And just as the decision of any team is binding on all the members, so the decisions of a meeting of people higher up in an organization carry a greater authority than any decision by a single executive.
Sometimes five minutes spent with six people separately is more effective and productive than a half-hour meeting with them all together.
Certainly a great many meetings waste a great deal of everyone’s time and seem to be held for historical rather than practical reasons; many long-established committees are little more than memorials to dead problems.
But having said that, and granting that “referring the matter to a committee” can be a device for diluting authority, diffusing responsibility, and delaying decisions, I cannot deny that meetings fulfill a deep human need. In every organization and every human culture of which we have record, people come together in small groups at regular and frequent intervals, and in larger “tribal” gatherings from time to time.
If there are no meetings in the places where they work, people’s attachment to the organizations they work for will be small, and they will meet in regular formal or informal gatherings in associations, societies, teams, clubs, or pubs when work is over.
Some ethologists call this capacity to share knowledge and experience among a group “the social mind,” conceiving it as a single mind dispersed among a number of skulls.