“This meeting could have been an email.”
Perhaps, if it was an email with one question.
How about if the organiser has 5 questions?
If they’re fairly closed questions with quick answers, yes, you could get the answers via email and save everyone a meeting.
If the questions are quite broad, they need some discussion, or they need some thought beforehand – trying to answer them via email can be tricky.
How about Slack?
I keep saying email. But let’s be realistic here. Lots of companies already have faster ways to communicate than email, such as Slack or Teams. (From here on out, I’ll stick with Slack to save writing “… or Teams” everywhere. Also, it’s what I know.)
Slack is a great tool. It’s quick and easy to ask things on Slack. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way.
It can be easy to fall victim to dropping everything to reply to a Slack message. When you do that, you can’t get into a flow state. You can have brief moments of satisfaction by answering a question or resolving a problem. But if you’re not disciplined with how you use it, Slack can get in the way of longer term objectives.
How Slack can slow things down
It’s easy to ask those 5 questions on Slack, and to kick off a big thread with lots of replies. Sometimes it’ll go off on a tangent – or multiple – and go way off track. As useful as the discussion can be, I wonder how much time we spend reading and replying to things on Slack.
It’s not always easy to see when a discussion should go outside Slack – it’s something you have to monitor. It’s low effort to post “just one more reply”. But the cumulative impact of lots of replies can be high.
Furthermore, even when the Q&A session goes well – and quickly – on Slack, I find that Slack isn’t the best tool for long-term storage of information. You need to put the answers somewhere, and keep that place up to date.
Why not search? Well yes, that works too, but Slack can also be full of other threads you wouldn’t consciously put in a knowledge base if you were making a choice.
A better way?
So back to meetings. How can we improve this?
First, ask the questions before calling a meeting. Give attendees a chance to think about the questions, and reply offline if possible.
Have meetings where questions need discussion. Look out for where people don’t reply – it might not mean a meeting is the only way, but it can be an option to focus people’s attention.