Faster, More Effective Meetings

By Heather Baldwin

Few would disagree that technology has made life easier in many ways. From cell phones to email to the Internet, we now can do things faster, more efficiently and with more information than ever before. The same is true for meetings. Using electronic support software a skilled facilitator can reduce the amount of time spent in meetings by enabling participants to be more productive and to make better, faster decisions.

Electronic support software is a collection of tools that supports group processes, such as brainstorming, categorizing, prioritizing and analyzing, says Bill Sedgwick, vice president of North York, Ontario-based Apple Management, a specialist business consultancy. “The tools are used interactively by a group of people working at separate workstations, either together or via the Internet. The output of an electronic support session is immediate hard copy and a copy saved on a CD or floppy disk.”

Take the activity of brainstorming, for example. Rather than having a facilitator scrawl on sticky notes or flip charts as participants call out ideas, each participant uses a computer to submit ideas related to the issue being considered. The ideas are immediately added to the group list that all participants can view and edit to consolidate similar ideas and add comments to any of the ideas on the list.

By enabling everyone to participate all at once via computer, the process of compiling and organizing ideas can happen much faster than with pen and paper, which means meetings can be concluded much faster. Just how much faster? According to Tucson, Arizona-based Group Systems, which develops the technology used by Apple Management facilitators, organizations have been able to reduce their time in meetings by as much as 50%. More importantly, meeting participants are reaching better decisions. Because the technology enables users to keep their identity anonymous when they contribute ideas, the ideas can be considered on their merit alone, rather than on the status of the contributor.”Electronic support tools can have a dramatic affect on the value of a facilitated session. While the quality and quantity of information can be increased dramatically, the time spent in the meeting can be reduced just as dramatically,” says Sedgwick. “A further benefit of electronic support tools is the degree of group consensus that can be built. Anonymity can be protected and the voting tools can be used to test for support of ideas and courses of action.”

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