I had some friends over yesterday. All four happen to be involved in social work and care in the community. While I pottered, they gathered around my kitchen table. They started talking shop, and I enjoyed just watching from afar and listening in.
It struck me that my kitchen table is very like the kind of round table we're often saddled with at conferences. But the quality of my friends' chat was very different from what you might expect at a conference. It was relaxed and playful, moving from periods of laughter to expressions of deep concern about the difficulties they encounter on a daily basis. Some of it related directly to work, and some of it didn't.
How nice, I thought, that they don't have someone prowling around to tell them they have 10 minutes to wrap their conversation up and present some action points to a larger meeting. Had such constraints been in place, they would have had a different conversation. I am pretty sure it would have been less satisfying and less valuable.
I wonder how much gets lost in organisational efforts to "make conversations productive". As I'm fond of saying, it's the effort to be effective that makes us ineffective.