I listened to a podcast recently where Steven Rogelberg was interviewed about his 2019 book — The Surprising Science of Meetings. I think that meetings are prime areas of opportunity for workplace performance improvement. For example, optimizing meetings can make time for learning. So I reviewed Rogelberg’s web page that provides links to podcasts, interviews, and references in various media. Here are some of the highlights.
“In many ways, meetings are the building blocks and core elements of our organizations. They are the venues where the organization comes to life for employees, teams, and leaders.” —Steven Rogelberg
“The people who love meetings are the managers who run them.” —Quartz 2019
“In 1973, Canadian business management expert Henry Mintzberg was among the first to examine the problem [frustrations with meetings]. His book ‘The Nature of Managerial Work’ found that more than half of managers’ time in his sample was spent in meetings.” —CNBC 2015
Making meetings better
“He [Rogelberg] recommends circulating the agenda three to four days before the meeting to both alert people to the meeting’s content and to get their buy-in. (If there’s time, agendas can even be created at the end of the previous meeting.) The act of soliciting input communicates that the meeting is intended as a collective experience, he says.” —Animal Sheltering 2018
“Rather than waste precious air time, he [Rogelberg] recommends attendees write down suggestions anonymously to share with the group so ideas can be discussed without anyone fearing the wrath of negative commentary …” —Inc 2019
“Rogelberg suggests starting by reducing your projected meeting length by 5–10 percent. If it’s a standing meeting, and you still have time to spare, reduce it a little more.” —The Cut 2018
“Steven Rogelberg points to Parkinson’s Law, explaining that meetings take as long as you allot for them. Most people feel compelled to fill the 30 minute Google Calendar and Outlook intervals when they could be quicker or handle over email.”
So what can we do to break the meeting habit, or at least wean ourselves off slightly?
1. Ask yourself if a meeting is really necessary.
2. Invite fewer people and give everyone a role.
3. Establish ground rules.
4. Produce an action plan.
5. Get up, stand up.
Managers can also try a concept that Rogelberg calls “leading the meeting from behind.”
“This idea of ‘leading a meeting from behind’ is the Holy Grail of meeting effectiveness,” he said. “It means that my job as meeting leader is to promote engagement, facilitate interactions and manage time. I focus on those roles, rather than trying to actively insert myself into the discussion. I certainly speak at times at key junctures, but that is not my primary role. My job is to make sure the meeting is productive, active, and successful.” —SHRM 2013
Many of these observations align with what I have already posted in — meetings, bloody meetings. The recommendations also show the practicality of using liberating structures for meetings which provide 33 concrete methods for selecting the right format and rules to achieve an objective of — Revealing, Analyzing, Spreading, Planning, Strategizing, or Helping.
However, like most organizational changes, meetings will only get better when those in leadership positions decide to make them so.