So, you want to solve problems and generate quality ideas in your meeting?
By Donna McAlister Kizzier

Posted February 26, 2010

If solving problems or generating high quality ideas are among your primary meeting goals, which of the many meeting venues available to facilitators should you select? Face to face? Teleconferencing? Audio and video conferencing? Text messaging? Asynchronous or synchronous? With or without collaborative systems? Does it make a difference which meeting tools you select or the time frame you select? This month’s Research Brief addresses these questions, with a clear winner emerging.

As a reminder, each Research Brief refers readers to the full published article. Click on the link to read today’s full Research Brief. These Briefs are intended to communicate the results of my already published research to practitioners in the field. I appreciate and encourage your feedback; you are the best qualified to judge the relevant application of my research in the workplace.

If you have been following my Research Briefs the last several months, you may recall that the larger study uses mixed research methods to address the effectiveness of each of six different meeting venues to

  1. solve problems,
  2. attend to group processes,
  3. address leadership factors, and
  4. achieve bottom line and organizational goals.

The ultimate purpose of the research stream is to design practical models to inform practitioners who want to conduct the most effective meetings using meeting technology. Of particular interest is learning how to most effectively conduct meetings globally, across time and space.

The following six facilitation modes were analyzed:

1 = Face to Face without CS (Collaborative Systems)
2 = Face to Face with CS
3 = Audio only (speaker phone) with CS
4 = Audio and video (web cam) with CS
5 = Synchronous text messaging with CS
6 = Asynchronous text messaging with CS

Problem Solving Approach
Combined data from 609 participants and facilitators related to the problem solving construct was analyzed. The problem solving construct combined perceptions of facilitators and participants toward two variables: (1) to what extent they felt the meeting venue was structured and focused on problem solving and (2) to what extent they felt the meeting venue produced unique ideas of high quality.

Results
The first problem solving variable asked subjects to report to what extent they felt the meeting mode was structured and focused on problem solving. Facilitators and participants felt the most effective mode for structuring and focusing upon problem solving was face to face with CS, followed by audio and video with CS, and face to face without CS. Less effective modes in descending order for this factor were audio only with CS and asynchronous text messaging with CS. The least effective mode was synchronous text messaging with CS. Participants and facilitators scored all modes above average for this problem-solving factor.

Follow up tests found face to face without CS was significantly less effective than face to face with CS and significantly more effective than either of the text messaging modes for achieving focus in problem solving. Significance was likewise found between face to face with CS and audio only with CS. These results suggest that if the goal of a meeting is to focus problem solving, audio with CS and both text messaging venues are not as effective as face to face with CS. Significance was furthermore reported between both audio and video with CS and both text messaging meeting venues. Thus, when compared with audio and video with CS, both text messaging approaches are significantly less effective to achieve problem solving focus.

The second problem solving variable addressed to what extent participants and facilitators felt each meeting venue had the ability to produce unique ideas of high quality. In response to this question, the most effective mode to produce unique ideas of higher quality was face to face with CS, followed by audio and video with CS, asynchronous text messaging with CS and face to face without CS. The least effective modes for this problem solving factors were synchronous text messaging with CS and audio only with CS. Participants and facilitators scored all facilitation modes as above average for this problem solving factor. Follow up testing found that face to face with CS was significantly more effective than any other meeting mode to produce unique ideas of higher quality.

Summary
Any of the six meeting venues studied can achieve above-average results when the goal of your meeting is to focus on solving problems and/or to produce unique ideas of high quality. However, significantly higher quality meeting results can be achieved for (1) overall problem solving, (2) focusing on problem solving and (3) producing unique ideas of high quality when a collaborative system (CS) such as FacilitatePro ia used in a face to face setting. If a face to face meeting with CS is not cost feasible, the next highest quality result can be achieved using audio and video (web cam) with CS. The audio and video with CS method can be achieved with economic benefits across geographic areas and time zones; however, output will be significantly lower than that achieved with face to face with CS. These results furthermore suggest that audio only with CS, text messaging (asynchronous and synchronous) with CS and face to face without CS are significantly less effective and therefore are not recommended when the goal of the meeting is to achieve quality problem solving.

Posted by Donna McAlister Kizzier