Asynchronous means ‘not at the same time’. Asynchronous meetings are a form of collaboration where the topics, the purpose and the inputs and outputs resemble a meeting, but where the way it takes place is more like leaving notes for each other.
Imagine entering a meeting room where you are the only one there, but everybody who has been in the room previously have left all their thinking, ideas, questions and conclusions documented around the room. You can wander round the room, read all of the contributions, and add your own thinking, ideas, questions and conclusions in response, and then leave to do something else – all at your own pace and convenience.
When you return to the room sometime later, you will see new additions, and responses to your own contributions from others who have revisited the room. Over time, you will know which areas of the room are most important to you, and you will be able to recognise the new thinking quickly, and help carry it forward with what you write. In this way, the discussion works its way toward consensus.
Except the room is rarely a physical room. It may be a forum, or a social network space such as Slack or Circuit or Yammer, or a virtual meeting space such as ConceptBoard or a persistent project wall created in GoogleDocs, or a set of documents or emails in a shared workspace such as SharePoint, or an off-line decision tool such as Tricider.
Clearly, the timescales may be longer than for a synchronous meeting, but it can be very useful when the topics under consideration need time invested for research, design, experimentation, trialing, sense-checking etc. and where the conclusions can be made rationally. They are particularly useful for Tag meetings (see https://help.inspirometer.com/meetings_clinic/what-sort-of-meeting-do-you-need/) and can work really well to progress actions and insight in parallel with a sequence of synchronous meetings, and provide a space for everyone to get up to speed with progress and the latest pre-reading before getting together (see https://help.inspirometer.com/meetings_clinic/mixed-meetings-and-mediums/).
Furthermore, even though the elapsed timescales may be longer than an individual meeting, they are often faster than a series of meetings. Their asynchronous nature make them easier to ‘schedule’ into a period where calendar conflicts would delay physical meetings, and it is often quicker to read the bits you most need to know that to listen to explanations of things you don’t.
However, for purposes of efficiency, asynchronous meetings benefit just as much as synchronous meetings from planning, good disciplines and regular feedback and review. Furthermore, they benefit from being actively scheduled into calendars.
Asynchronous, does not mean ‘ad-hoc’.
The idea of scheduling Asynchronous meetings into your calendar may initially seem counter-intuitive. Surely, you go onto the forums (for example Yammer and Slack) when you have a gap – it isn’t actually something you schedule! Is it???
The problem with the ad-hoc mindset is that we are all getting busier, and if we fail to schedule things they will fail to happen. If someone has moved their meetings to the asynchronous world in the hope of being more efficient, but is then dependent on people ‘finding time between other things’ progress will inevitably get drawn out, and a meeting will have to be called anyway.
For Asynchronous meetings to take hold, and deliver the benefits they are capable of, it requires people to take responsibility for playing their part in a timely manner, and they can only do this if they plan quality time into their schedules to do this.
Asynchronous meetings are also an extremely effective way of augmenting a pattern of synchronous meetings, for example within a project. The use of Persistent Project Walls in synchronous meetings provide a perfect framework for continuing to develop the outcomes asynchronously between meetings.
The following video excerpt provides an illustration of how that can work.
Track your progress to ensure the efficacy of this strategy.