Goal Factoring: Silent Meeting Attendees

You know all of those people hanging around during a discussion while 1-3 people debate something? I think they’re likely a sign that something is wrong. Let’s look at the benefits and costs of having non-speaking entities in a meeting or discussion.

Possible Benefits:

  1. Learning from watching
    This may be improved with a video.  Unlike human discussions, videos can be sped up, skipped, and played whenever convenient.  I also suspect that there is a high correlation between participation and understanding, so I assume that many people not participating are not understanding much anyway.
  2. Possibilities of comments
    How useful have these spare comments actually been in the past, specifically those that can’t be emailed to a specific party?  Online chat systems can target questions and comments far more efficiently than meeting situations can.
  3. Support for the speakers
    If speakers just want to feel appreciated, then purchase inexpensive virtual assistants to attend in the place of useful employees.

Possible Harms (besides obvious opportunity costs):

  1. Reduction of energy
    When I’m bored I loose energy and wind up more exhausted than I would have been accomplishing useful work.  Paying half-attention and doing nothing actively reduces the quality of my life.

  2. Culture of meetings and slow time encouraged

That is all.  I encourage small meetings, and when discussions begin with a subset, either they agree to talk separately or it’s ok-ed for the others to leave.