It comes at a cost. An estimated $US37 billion is lost every year to unproductive meetings, which suggests that while we have tons of meetings, we’re not that great at them.
Organizational psychologists have looked into why. Find the most common meeting mistakes below.
1. You have too many of them.
Since a third of meetings “simply aren’t productive,” according to the research, you should consider having fewer.
2. You don’t have a facilitator.
“Advanced Facilitation Strategies” author Ingrid Bens defines a facilitator as “one who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups are able to function effectively and make high-quality decisions.”
Every meeting should have one: a person who brings the discussion back to the topic when people go on tangents, creates the space for people, and helps dig into topics when they reveal themselves to be more complex than originally thought. In the same way an expert accompanist helps a singer hit the high notes, an expert facilitator helps bring the best out of a team.
3. You don’t establish and follow ground rules.
Everyone brings a set of assumptions about how meetings should be run. But those assumptions don’t always match up — some people think you should talk as much as possible, others believe in more measured conversation.
University of Nevada-Reno organizational development specialist Marlene K. Rebori says that ground rules “are explicit rules that the group agrees to follow to help them facilitate productive discussions,” so that the way things should be done is something obvious for everybody.
She suggests a few examples, like “separate people from the problem; respect different viewpoints; share responsibility for following the ground rules.”
4. You listen to the loudmouth, rather than the expert.
Studies from the University of Utah show that people have a terrible time of distinguishing experts on a given topic from the loudest person in the room.
As associate professor Bryan L. Bonner tells the Wall Street Journal, we rely on “messy proxies for expertise,” like extroversion, gender, or race instead of actually listening to the content of what they’re saying. Just because they’re loud doesn’t mean they’re right.
5. You drink too much (or not enough) coffee.
A study on the effects of caffeine on meetings found a surprising gender difference. When men drink coffee during stressful meetings, they perform worse. When women do the same, they perform better.
While the researchers couldn’t say for certain, they infer that the difference lies in how the genders tend to respond to stress. The psychology blog Research Digest reports that women take on a “collaborative, mutually protective style (known as ‘tend and befriend’) whereas men usually exhibit a fight or flight response,” and the former is a better fit for meetings.
6. You count the time, not the tasks.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t wait to end a meeting at the 15, 30, or 60 minute mark. As Fortune reports:
(Sandberg’s) days are a flurry of meetings that she runs with the help of a decidedly undigital spiral-bound notebook. On it, she keeps lists of discussion points and action items. She crosses them off one by one, and once every item on a page is checked, she rips the page off and moves to the next. If every item is done 10 minutes into an hour-long meeting, the meeting is over.
In other words: Set the agenda, accomplish each item, and then get out.
7. You show up late.
A whopping 37% of meetings start late, mostly because someone attending it was late. This leads to the latecomer feeling rude, while the waiting staffers feel disrespected, upset, and frustrated — all of which drive down performance.
8. You get exhausted from “surface acting.”
There’s lots of surface acting at work, where you manage your emotions by showing the “right” one for the context when you feel otherwise. Like if you just had a text-fight with your partner before attending a meeting and then have to pretend to be happy.
A 2013 study found that surface acting takes attention away from actually getting the work done in the short-term and leads to burnout in the long-term.
9. You invite too many people.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos follows the Two Pizza Rule: No meeting should have more people than can be fed with a pair of pepperoni pies.
This not only allows for quicker decisions, it also lets teams test their ideas without the interference of groupthink — the Amazon exec’s biggest pet peeve.
10. You eat during the meeting.
Unless everybody else is eating, you shouldn’t. A Two Pizza Rule for the team is great; a Two Burger Rule for you is awful.
If you’re eating during a meeting, “you can make noise or give off smells” that disrupt the proceedings, etiquette expert Barbara Pachter tells Business Insider.
11. You don’t have a strong agenda.
Don’t meet just to meet, Pachter says. If you don’t have an itemized list of what needs to get decided — like Sheryl Sandberg does — then you’re not going to know when you’re off track, let alone finished.
12. You use your phone.
Using a phone during a meeting is rude and distracting, says Pachter. It shows that you prioritise the emails, texts, and tweets of others over the people and agenda in front of you.
Patcher says you shouldn’t even have your phone on the table, since alerts can distract the group, ultimately breaking focus and hurting productivity. “Put it in your pocket, keep it on vibrate, and leave the room if you have to take the call or return a text,” she says.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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