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Three Rules of Thumb for Motivating Work Meetings

Sep 8 2020 • 3 min read

Do you love meetings and think that in your workplace they are run efficiently, always have a clear purpose, and never have too many people involved? If your answer to this is ‘no’, then your views are shared by the vast majority of people working in offices around the world.

This seems like an odd state of affairs, given that meetings are how decisions in companies around the world are generally taken. If you could make meetings even slightly more efficient, surely everyone would jump at the chance to do so?

The reason this does not happen is explained, at least in part, by the existence of an important minority group who think that meetings are great. They think the meetings they participate in are run with extreme efficiency and clear purpose, and leave participants invigorated. Who are these people? They are the chairs of those same meetings.

The good news for anyone reading this, chairs included, is that there are some simple things you can do to make your meetings more enjoyable and more efficient. Here we list the three most straightforward things we can all do.

1) Know which type of meeting you’re having.

The vast majority of meetings fit into one of two categories: 1) idea generating, and 2) decision-making. So decide which one of these meeting types yours is. And then set an agenda with a clearly defined objective that fits the type of meeting. For example, if you are taking a decision, it is a good idea to frame agenda items as questions to be answered (rather than points to be discussed). This has been shown to encourage purposeful discussions.

2) Gather input in advance for brainstorming meetings

Research shows that it is best to separate the process of generating potential solutions (brainstorming) from the moment of selecting them (decision-making). Collecting attendees’ ideas in advance can support this creative process – especially if suggestions are detached from their creators, which ensures that each idea is given equal consideration.

This collection process should be done by individual participants independently of one another, which helps to avoid social pressure or reinforcement from prematurely rejecting an idea, or giving a bad idea unnecessary momentum.

3) Reduce the number of participants for decision-making meetings

If the primary purpose of a meeting is to make a decision, aim for less than 7 attendees – research shows that for each additional person beyond this, decision effectiveness decreases by 10%. This is partly because the probability of ‘social loafing’ (the tendency for individuals to expend less effort when working collectively than when working individually) increases with meeting size. One way to achieve this is to split invitees into core (participation expected) and secondary (participation optional) attendees.

These are, of course, only a few of the potential changes that you can make to the way that your organisation runs meetings. But they are also amongst the most straightforward and impactful, especially if adopted across an organisation. They can help to ensure that all employees feel like meetings are time well spent; not just the chair on the day. So as ever, pass on this message to your colleagues and let us know how you get on!

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