The Dreaded Meeting
The fact that there’s a fountain of research studies, surveys and books, on the topic of “making meetings better” says to me that these necessary evils leave much to be desired. Their structure, impact on morale and staff productivity seems to be discussed frequently. From my point-of-view I wanted to know: 1) why do meetings cause such dread and 2) is making them shorter the answer?
In my research I found tons of best practices to keep meetings productive as well as statistics on how much of our day we’re stuck in meetings. (Thanks.) The study I found most informative covered how employees feel about meetings and why they feel that way.
My simple-syrup reduction from this 26-page study is: meetings are considered an interruption. Nobody likes interruptions. Even when meetings are planned, they cause a perceived down-shift in productivity and upswing in mental expense, for possibly little reward. We dread meetings, we dread planning for them, participating in them and when they’re long, we’re too wiped to feel relief when it’s all over to actually be productive again.
Experiments of Professors Luong and Rogelberg1 revealed, the more meetings one has to attend, and the more time one spends in meetings, the greater the negative effect. They go on to reveal meetings that start late, lack structure and run long are the most dreaded. Furthermore, the indication of the meeting starting late or starting without all of the invited parties had a direct effect on the perceived outcome of the meeting (i.e., starting late = poor organization = running late = major dread).
In my experience, I have NEVER attended a meeting that ended early where someone left upset about it. On the contrary, I see smiles as they walk away with pep in their step like they just got a free milkshake or an unexpected discount. So I wonder, do shorter meetings in general relieve this dread or is setting expectations for long ones and delivering short ones the key? Maybe a little bit of both, but I found more research to support the former.
This graphic from SalesCrunch, who consider their online meeting platform “the next-generation,” is very telling. They were able to measure when people are paying attention in their meetings versus when they lose focus doing other things, like checking email. Their review of thousands of meetings revealed the optimal length of a meeting based on how long people tend to pay attention and at which point they tend to drift off.
American Business Etiquette consultant, Phyllis Davis, who says the proper length of a meeting is no more than 70 minutes. And even with that length you should provide fruit or snacks to keep the blood sugar from dropping!
And I couldn’t leave out the chart of all charts, “Meeting Length vs. Will To Live,” which sums it all up.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that the shorter the meeting the less the dread. But we all know for it to be rewarding it has to be short and productive. Here’s my pick for making meetings most productive. Compliments from Dummies.com. Enjoy.
FROM THE WORK WELL
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1) A study by Luong and Rogelberg (2005), Employees’ feelings about more meetings: An overt analysis and recommendations for improving meetings.