TL;DR: In corporate world, explicit written communication is better than word-of-mouth and telephone game. Most meetings are better when they start and finish with a written document. To become a happy and productive team, ask to put things in writing.

Human memory vs. written documents

One day you might notice that none of your team meetings have any writing associated with it. It’s almost like every meeting you have has no agenda in the beginning and no action items at the end - except they most often do, but that information is all “remembered” - stored in people’s memories.

Human memory is a bad storage. Having to remember too many things induces stress. Accessing memorized information needs the human to be alive, awake, and employed. It decays over time. It’s barely searchable. There is no way of making sure it’s synchronized (as in, my memory is the same as yours). The only way of sharing it is through speaking. Speaking is a lossy protocol: you said one thing, I heard another, and remembered a third. Speaking is synchronous: it requires ongoing attention from all participants. Speaking is non-repeatable: what was said once has to be repeated for another person at the same cost.

On the other hand, written document is great storage. Information there is preserved after layoffs. It’s trivial to have a single version of it. It never decays. It’s searchable. After single-time cost of writing, it can be shared in its entirety for free. Writing is lossy as well, but the chance of miscommunication is lower. It’s asynchronous: readers can consume it whenever it’s convenient. Written document can be shared with more readers later. Moreover, it can be evolved over time, collaboratively. For most people, typing is as fast as speaking and reading is faster than listening.

When you should prefer writing

Spoken communication is great for synchronous bidirectional interactions: 1:1s, brainstorms, status updates, pair programming. It’s great for hackathon-style development: small team with short-term goals, all physically in the same room. But there is no excuse not to have something in writing when the communication involves many people and potentially more later, or when the information is important to get right, or when the information is expected to have a long lifetime and be referred to repeatedly, or when it requires feedback from everyone but not immediately: planning on monthly/weekly scale, requirements, design documents, APIs.

Writing is great tool for meetings: it encourages coherent thought, things become explicit, hidden problems bubble up and provoke questions from co-authors and readers both. Why would you use a sub-optimal tool when there is a better one? If you’re holding a meeting, at least sketch an agenda; it will structure the discussion and limit misunderstanding. During the meeting, flesh out the agenda items as you go through them and make decisions. Use the resulting document for the next meeting in series. Bonus points if you can simply share the document and ask for feedback instead of holding a meeting. Any meeting that did not result in any written document means time spent sub-optimally.

Push for more things stated in writing. If someone is hesitant to do so, they value neither their time nor yours. They want to hoard tribal knowledge in their heads. They don’t want you to be productive in the long term. They don’t want to encourage feedback. They want to perpetuate hackathon culture. They want to make your life stressful.