How a scientific approach can improve even the worst meetings
Ugh, meetings. A waste of time, a source of drama, a captive audience for that person who drones on — any of these factors can derail the best gathering of co-workers. But meetings don’t have to be a force for evil, according to recent scientific evidence. Science has found ways to make co-worker get-togethers more productive and even make meetings something the whole staff can plan for and look forward to. Here are three research-based strategies that can improve even the worst meetings:
Let More People Take A Turn
Humboldt Award-winning researcher Steven G. Rogelberg determined a direct link between participating in a meeting and being satisfied with that meeting. That’s why so many bosses mistakenly believe their meetings are valuable and work well for everyone. As the person calling the gathering, they tend to get to speak at length and engage throughout.
To use this finding to improve attitude and productivity in the conference room, the people in charge of meetings should first gather input from past participants. Naturally, an anonymous questionnaire is best, and it should elicit how group members feel about the process and the meeting vibe. Even if all the attendees lavish praise on the boss’s style, follow through by noting body language (including the telltale glazed over eyes) for a few sessions. Along with noting when the top presenter is the sole participant, try to notice when other employees constantly “take the mic” or override their co-workers who are trying to engage.
Set An Effective Time Limit
Another scientific finding that impacts good meeting practice is known as the Yerkes-Dodson law. This principle describes how stress can improve performance, but only in the correct amount. The psychology behind Yerkes-Dodson also indicates that each type of task takes a specific amount of mental arousal for optimal performance. When a task is tough or no one is familiar with it, smaller amounts of stress will affect the desired performance level. For more ordinary or even tedious tasks, like meetings, a higher stress level prompts the best performance.
A savvy meeting manager can use this science to advantage by keeping meetings shorter than expected. Start by throwing out the standard 60-minute meeting, especially if the reality extends many minutes or even an hour over. Not only will a shorter meeting save everyone’s precious workday hours, but it may also place enough stress on the group to draw an optimal performance from the participants.
While you’re considering how much time you’ll need, go to the extreme and ask if you need to hold a meeting at all. Even (or especially) the all-invited traditional Monday morning meeting could be banished with good results if all you do there is dispense information that could just as readily come across in an e-mail to a select few or a few quick phone calls.
Slice Out The Social Loafing
“Social loafing” is a term coined by researchers to describe the way individuals tend to put forth less effort for a group project than they do when they’re the only one accountable (or visible). A meta-analysis of this topic determined that certain variables influenced the degree of “social loafing,” including the potential for being evaluated and how they expected co-workers to perform.
But one of the factors that reduced social loafing was social identity. This scientific finding helps managers improve meetings that involve remote participants. To make certain they don’t feel like unidentified members of the team, meeting scientists suggest opting for video conferencing instead of the telephone. Another tactic to make remote meeting attendees feel more visible: Ask them to preface remarks made with their name. Or everyone can wear a name tag during videoconferences, so remoted and onsite attendees know who they are.