Why Meetings Never Accomplish Anything—And 3 Ways To Fix Them

If two heads are better than one, three's a crowd, and too many chefs spoil the broth, how do we meet those client deliverables? By following these steps.

There's a problem that's perplexed everyone from Miles Davis to Thomas Edison to LeBron James: how to make teams actually work.

Writing in Behance's 99u blog, psychologist Christian Jarrett gathers new research on the common problems teams face and offers solutions for them—three of which are below.

Don't let loudmouths hold too much sway.

Echoing Quiet author Susan Cain's point that the loudest people don't have the best ideas and can, in fact, hamstring the ideas generation process.

"Vocal, overconfident team members have a disproportionate influence while shy contributors lose faith in their own proposals," Jarrett writes, drawing from a Swiss and Hungarian study.

The solution: make sure everyone involved notes their ideas and prediction before the discussion—and influencing—begins.

Inject a little pessimism.

When teams fail on projects, companies will make inquiries to find out what went wrong. Jarrett writes that the downfall is often caused by project groups growing isolated and inward-looking, a symptom of the "unrealistic optimism that often bedevils creative teams."

To tackle this, Jarrett suggests a bit of healthy incredulity from decisions researcher Gary Klein: air out reservations with a "pre-mortem," a thought experiment where members forecast that their project fell apart in the future—and then backtrack to the present to find out why.

Watch the clock.

If you're having meetings, research suggests that you need them to be crisp. Jarrett notes a 2011 study that found that 367 American employees across industries didn't care so much about how long a meeting lasted, but whether it started and ended on time.

And when in a week should you have a meeting? According to a 2009 analysis by scheduling service When Is Good, people's flexibility peaks at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays.

So we'll see you in the conference room then. Hope you have your pre-mortem ready.

[Image: Flickr user Patrick Hoesly]

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5 Comments

  • Annette Simmons

    Plato told a story about this - THAT'S how long it has been a problem!  In a terrible storm a charismatic captain who didn't know where the hell he was, held sway over the nerdy navigator and convinced his men to sail into the storm and to their deaths.  (this is paraphrased for course)

  • Ara ohanian

    There are two types of meetings and knowing which one you are involved with will help you run it effectively. The first type of meeting is the focused, action-based meeting for getting things done, in this it’s essential to be brisk, keep to time, set actions and follow up. The second type is the thinking meeting for brainstorming and teasing out problems. These need to be looser, and more free flowing although they should all end in allocated actions. Both types of meetings should start and finish on time but it’s important not to confuse them. There’s nothing worse than someone brainstorming and getting creative when what you really need is to tackle high propriety actions. It’s also no good to drill down to detail when you’re trying to think strategically.

  • Jared Goldsmith

    Couldn't agree more about preparing for a meeting by discussing and influencing others beforehand to speed up the group discussion. There's this trend going around now (I believe mostly in Tech) where managers are holding "stand-up" meetings. Has anyone participated in one? How did it compare to a traditional sit down meeting?

  • Chris Reich

    Balance Balance Balance!

    #1 Don't let loudmouths hold too much sway
    Unless management is smothering dialogue. Sometimes people have to shout to be heard.

    #2 Inject a little pessimism
    Never. Inject reality.

    #3 Watch the clock
    Watch that you do not dominate the meeting and then cut the time. Make certain that people who want to be heard are heard.

    Just my 2 centavos.

  • Sybil

    Agree, especially on the concept that sometimes we need to inject a little pessimism. This way we can prepare ourselves to the unexpected things that may happen. No matter how great our ideas, it has its own pitfalls.