As part of a terrific piece on managing workplace interruptions for Good Company, the online newsletter of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, Stacy Baer and Larissa Barber (Northern Illinois U.) suggest that fewer, more focused meetings can buoy individual and organizational productivity.
Less is more
Citing published research, they write about how workers regard meetings and the uses of meetings for organizations:
Meetings. Meetings are increasingly encouraged by organizations (Bettencourt, 1992). Research has shown that individuals who are more motivated to accomplish work goals are more likely to view meetings as interruptions (Rogelberg, Leach, Warr, and Burnfield, 2006). Those who are less goal-oriented tend to find meetings to be less of a nuisance. This trend suggests that meetings have the potential to be a source of wasted time. However, meetings are important for communication and collaboration between employees. Meetings are most effective when they are scheduled in advance, well-structured with an agenda, start and end on time and when employees in attendance are not under time pressure or otherwise distracted from the purpose of the meeting (Rogelberg et al., 2006).
Here are more of their recommendations for handling meetings:
Reduce Meeting Fatigue. Hold less frequent meetings. Much information can be more efficiently communicated through email than through time-wasting meetings (Rogelberg, Leach, Warr, & Burnfield, 2006). If meetings must take place, allot time before coming together for employees to consider the problems at hand and their suggested solutions to make the best use of meeting time (Girotra, 2010).
The full article covers other types of work interruptions, such as intrusions, distractions, and breaks, as well as the role of technology and physical design of workplaces. It’s a neat little primer for anyone interested in the topic.
Academe, are you listening?
As I read the commentary about meetings, I wished that every academic administrator in higher education would read it! As I wrote last year:
It is a well-documented trend that American colleges and universities increasingly are dominated by an “administrative class” that has been growing by leaps and bounds, even at schools that have cut, or sharply slowed the growth of, their full-time faculties.
. . . In a mundane yet significant sense, the addition of administrators usually means more meetings. After all, calling meetings and creating committees help to justify one’s position and provide ways to keep busy. Such efforts frequently generate endless exchanges of e-mails & memos and painful exercises in group “wordsmithing.”
Meetings are a necessary piece of organizational life. But good meetings are the exception to the norm. All too often, meetings are giant time and energy suckers. Fewer and smarter meetings would benefit everyone except those who like to sit in a room and yammer.