How Do Collaborative Meeting Systems Affect The Bottom Line?
By Donna McAlister Kizzier

Posted October 19, 2009

As technology advances and the global economy strains to stabilize, what is a leader who is increasingly pressed to produce bottom line results to do? Based on research being conducted at Morehead State University, part of the answer may be to run more effective global meetings using collaborative systems. This research indicates that collaborative systems can save time and travel-related expense while enhancing the quality of meeting outcomes.

For the past seven years, I have been conducting a long-term comprehensive study on the effectiveness of several meeting venues on scientifically validated group effectiveness factors. The ultimate goal of this project is to design meeting models that work effectively across time, space, and diverse cultures.

This study component focused on the effect of six meeting venues on validated bottom line and organizational factors. The study involved 737 participants who represented facilitators, participants and meeting observers trained to critically assess group effectiveness factors.

The bottom line effectiveness factors were grouped around 6 constructs: Problem solving/decision making, group process, leadership/commitment, bottom line issues (eg: reducing labor costs), situational factors (eg: multi-cultural support) and organization issues (eg: alignment of individual motivation with group objectives).

The meeting venues included face to face without collaborative systems (CS), face to face with CS; audio with CS; audio and video with CS; asynchronous text with CS and synchronous text with CS. A Collaborative System is a software application that is specifically designed to address the group processes in problem solving and decision making. Other terms for CS include electronic meeting systems, groupware, and group decision support systems. These studies used FacilitatePro from Facilitate.com as the collaborative system.

When the goal of a meeting is to achieve bottom line advantages, the most effective venue choice, according to facilitators and participants, is face to face with a collaborative system. This face to face venue trades off increased costs to achieve high participant satisfaction, high quality ideas and effective meeting results. Facilitators and participants reported web conferencing with audio and video capability and CS to be an effective second choice to achieve bottom line results. Although asynchronous text messaging with CS was rated to be the most effective to reduce labor costs, it was rated significantly less effective than the other venues to achieve quality meeting results and high participant satisfaction. Asynchronous text messaging can overcome time differences, but is not perceived as effective to achieve bottom line and organizational effectiveness.

The results suggested that when the goal of a meeting is to achieve effectiveness at geographically dispersed sites, audio and video (a simple web cam) with a rich CS system was perceived by participants and facilitators as the most effective meeting mode. Based on the factors studied, all CS-enhanced venues were perceived as effective in global environments; however, meeting observers perceived audio with CS and audio and video with CS as the most effective venues across time zones. It was interesting to note that with enhanced video quality of more recent web cams, the effectiveness of this mode has increased over time. This research also assessed the effectiveness of face to face meetings without CS: these were significantly less effective to achieve bottom line factors.

So, if you want to conduct an effective meeting across the globe, save wear and tear on your employees, and reduce travel costs, consider supplementing your meeting with a collaborative system and web cams. But if you can afford to conduct the meeting face to face, this is the most effective overall approach.

Click on the link to read a more detailed (but still concise) summary of this study.

I will post additional results of these long-term comprehensive studies to this blog to help those who facilitate meetings make informed decisions about how to conduct effective meetings using technology. I welcome anyone reading this to give me feedback based on your professional and practical experiences.

Posted by Donna McAlister Kizzier