You will lose.

People who are checking their email, exchanging text messages, surfing the web, tweeting or playing “Words with Friends” during a meeting are NOT fully engaged with the others in the room.

In the past, we never had to deal with smart phones, small laptops, or iPads in the meeting room. Now that these weapons of mass distraction are all but universal, we need to consider our choices:

  1. Tolerate
  2. Ban
  3. Incorporate

Each of these options sends a message.

#1 (Tolerate) says: We recognize that this meeting may be boring for you at times, so feel free to do something else while the rest of us deal with the issues we came together to address.

#2 (Ban) says: We need you in the conversation. We recognize that, like everyone else in the room, you are busy. We promise to make good use of your time and end the session promptly at the announced hour.

#3 (Incorporate) says: We will use these technology tools at specific moments in the program. Until then, please turn them off.

Option #1 (Tolerate) is already the default setting at most meetings. Let´s explore what it would take for option #2 (Ban) to become the new normal.

  • The facilitator must propose the ban at the start of each meeting, along with whatever other process agreements the group may have.
  • The group must accept the proposal; otherwise the facilitator has no authority to impose it.
  • The ban must be universal. No exceptions (other than for the person taking the meeting minutes on a laptop or if someone is asked to check a fact on the internet).
  • The ban must be enforced. When the rule is violated, the facilitator must politely but firmly remind participants of the prior agreement and ask those who simply must use their devices to do so outside the meeting room.

Even more important, however, is the obligation of those convening and facilitating the meeting to have a clear, compelling purpose for the session and design an agenda that will engage participants instead of boring them to death.