Are traditional meetings still relevant in today's tech-driven world?

Executive Summary

Not for nothing are so many “Dilbert” comic strips set in meetings. Notorious for wasting time, dulling motivation and draining creativity, meetings are widely seen as a necessary evil—one poll found that 46 percent of Americans prefer almost any “unpleasant activity” over a meeting. Not surprisingly, managers are trying to reinvent meetings to make them more productive and to meet the changing needs of a 21st-century economy. Technology and startup companies are experimenting with meeting formats and lengths, and some established organizations are following suit. And as staffs become more diverse, managers and researchers say meeting dynamics must include more points of view, communication styles and ways of arriving at decisions. Some experts agree that new technologies may help solve many problems associated with routine meetings. Yet others say that changing corporate culture is more important. Among the questions under debate: Is technology fundamentally changing the nature of meetings? Are planned meetings better than spontaneous meetings? Can women be heard in meetings?

Resources

Bibliography

Books

Axtell, Paul, “Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations,” Jackson Creek Press, 2015. An executive coach focuses on the organizational purpose of collaboration and outlines the tactics for meeting success.

Baker, Heather, “Successful Minute Taking: Meeting the Challenge,” Universe of Learning, 2013. An executive-secretary-turned-administrative-trainer spells out the minutia of meeting protocol and process.

Field, Bryan, and Peter Kidd, “Powerfully Simple Meetings: Your Guide to Fewer, Faster, More Focused Business Meetings,” MeetingResult, 2014. Two meeting-efficiency consultants examine ways to make meetings more successful.

Heinecke, Stu, “How to Get a Meeting with Anyone: The Untapped Selling Power of Contact Marketing,” BenBella Books, 2016. A sales consultant explains how to win time with top executives—strategies that are especially useful in flat organizations.

Martin, Jeanette S., and Lillian H. Chaney, “Global Business Etiquette: A Guide to International Communication,” Praeger, 2012. Business school professors outline cultural and international differences and similarities in formal business meetings, communication and etiquette.

Schwartzman, Helen B., “The Meeting: Gatherings in Organizations and Communities,” Plenum Press, 1989. A Northwestern University professor of anthropology explores how various cultures conduct and view meetings.

Articles

“Conference Planning Checklists,” National Council of Teachers of English, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/h4m6rv2. The organization details the ingredients of successful meetings, from a timeline for the event to a day-before site inspection.

“Planning Accessible Meetings and Events: A Toolkit,” American Bar Association, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/jcx7gnx. The voluntary association of lawyers and law students outlines ways to include in meetings people who have limited abilities to see, hear, move or speak.

Axelrod, Dick, “How to Change Your Company Culture One Meeting at a Time,” SwitchandShift.com, July 10, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/zdz6aue. An organizational-change consultant illustrates step-by-step methods of how to shift corporate or departmental cultures through structure and communication at meetings.

Barsade, Sigal, and Olivia A. O'Neill, “Quantifying Your Company's Emotional Culture,” Harvard Business Review, Jan. 7, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zmb6pfc. Professors of organizational behavior at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business (Barsade) and George Mason University (O'Neill) discuss how to track the emotional culture of workplaces.

Gallo, Amy, “The Condensed Guide to Running Meetings,” Harvard Business Review, July 6, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/ohcbwan. A business writer summarizes current wisdom on calling and managing meetings.

Heffernan, Virginia, “Meet Is Murder,” The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hdeavpv. An essayist wonders how meetings “can be made bearable” and surveys a variety of experts.

Silverman, Rachel Emma, “Where's the Boss? Trapped in a Meeting,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 14, 2012, http://tinyurl.com/jtkrgv7. A reporter describes a study by London School of Economics and Harvard Business School researchers who tracked the schedules of more than 500 CEOs to learn how they spend their time and how that affects their companies’ performance and management.

Spiro, Josh, “How to Run an Effective Meeting,” Inc., Aug. 4, 2010. http://tinyurl.com/28hr5js. A reporter delves into best practices for various types of meetings.

Sutton, Robert, “Tips for Better Brainstorming,” Bloomberg Businessweek, July 25, 2006, http://tinyurl.com/hx4b4re. A reporter outlines common pitfalls and assumptions about brainstorming.

Reports and Studies

“American Time Use Survey,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/hm2g2a8. The federal agency charged with compiling workplace statistics measures how much time Americans spend at work as well as on various tasks.

“Guide to Meeting Facilitation, Best Practices and Talking Tips,” Strategic Training Solutions, 2010, http://tinyurl.com/gtzoerd. A consulting firm provides an overview of how to fulfill the intended mission of a meeting.

“Guidelines on Meetings Planning and Coordination,” United Nations Conference Services Division, March 2006, http://tinyurl.com/zwfsneb. The U.N. agency overseeing conferences gives an overview of the aspects of holding an international meeting, including invitations and seating charts.

“Running Meetings with Robert's Rules of Order,” Alpha Rho Chi, March 2014, http://tinyurl.com/zmddnlv. A professional fraternity for architecture simplifies Robert's Rules of Order.

Kim, Been, and Cynthia Rudin, “Learning About Meetings,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/zfxkzex. Two MIT researchers assess ways to understand what happens in meetings and uncover complications that they attribute to contradictions between explicit and hidden agendas.

Rogelberg, Steven, et al., “Lateness to meetings: Examination of an unexplored temporal phenomenon,” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/zfqtt8g. Researchers study punctuality at work and say the topic warrants additional exploration.

The Next Step

Efficiency

Feloni, Richard, “A Facebook cofounder's productivity startup recommends 5 ways to dramatically improve your meetings,” Business Insider, Feb. 8, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j83jc79. To increase meeting productivity, companies should impose caps on recurring meetings, designate one “no-meeting” day each week and allow employees five minutes at the end of meetings to ensure everyone is aware of their expected responsibilities, according to a list of best practices by technology company Asana.

Gallo, Amy, “The Condensed Guide to Running Meetings,” Harvard Business Review, July 6, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/ohcbwan. Organizations can make meetings more effective by limiting attendance to seven people, banning mobile devices and setting clear agendas, among other strategies, say two experts on meetings and decision-making.

Ha, Anthony, “Meetings Are Usually Terrible, But YC-Backed WorkLife Aims To Change That,” TechCrunch, March 11, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/mcztnwe. Technology startup WorkLife developed computer and mobile-device software that allows users to update meeting agendas, assign tasks, track time and generate shareable summaries from notes.

Leadership

Joseph, Arthur, “Leadership: Can You Learn to Communicate and Embody It?” Entrepreneur, Oct. 19, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/ordrugw. Business classes often fail to teach students communication skills required of effective leaders, including how to facilitate and present information at meetings, says a communication strategist and speech coach.

Norton, Steven, “University IT Staff Gets Help Translating ‘Geek Speech’ to English,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 25, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/gsh84lf. A public-speaking group teaches information technology employees at the University of Arizona to improve their leadership and communication skills and has helped many to become more vocal during business meetings, says the university's chief information officer.

Tabaka, Marla, “How a Real Leader Runs a Company Meeting,” Inc., Sept. 3, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/p4lto55. The best leaders establish clear purposes for calling a meeting, respect company hierarchies, manage time and distribute information to staff before the gathering, according to a small-business strategy consultant.

Spatial Design

Gallagher, John, “Office design today embraces flexible workspaces,” Detroit Free Press, Aug. 1, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/ptkd2hn. The increasingly collaborative nature of office work over the past several decades contributed to a shift toward open meeting spaces, say employees of Michigan-based office-furniture maker Herman Miller.

Swanson, Ana, “Fascinating photos show the best and worst office designs for employees,” The Washington Post, July 7, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/zeo2kwv. A principal at architecture and design firm Gensler predicts offices of the future will feature smaller, more numerous meeting rooms—a change from the 1990s, when office layouts began to be more open and collaborative.

Zipkin, Amy, “Conference Centers Offer Companies Meeting Space Without Strings,” The New York Times, April 6, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/jc7tdaj. More stand-alone urban conference centers have appeared since the 2007–09 global recession, offering more flexible and comfortable meeting spaces for companies at cheaper rates than hotel-connected conference centers.

Technology

Segan, Sascha, “At Samsung Unpacked, Zuckerberg Ushers in the Year of VR,” PC Mag, Feb. 21, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jfshtmb. Virtual-reality headsets will allow business colleagues to hold meetings from around the world, predicted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at an annual mobile technology conference in Barcelona.

Shah, Agam, “Quick start to meetings saves money, improves efficiency for Intel,” CIO, Feb. 1, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jeeyngm. Technology company Intel installed wireless tools in more than 500 conference rooms, boosting meetings’ efficiency by enabling on- and off-site employees to share information via monitors without having to waste time connecting cables to computers and other devices.

Warner, Kelsey, “Could Microsoft's humongous touchscreen make meetings bearable?” The Christian Science Monitor, June 10, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/zodwcy9. Microsoft developed the Surface Hub, a touchscreen device available in 55- or 84-inch formats, to serve as a tablet computer, blackboard and TV screen and is marketing it to companies hoping to streamline boardroom meetings.

Organizations

American Anthropological Association
2300 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 1301, Arlington, VA 22201
703-528-1902
www.americananthro.org
Professional association for academic and practicing anthropologists, including business anthropologists, who study group dynamics and cultural history and evolution.

American Society of Association Executives
1575 I St., N.W., Washington, DC 20005
202-626-2723
www.asaecenter.org
Professional association for paid managers of trade, nonprofit and professional associations; provides training and advice on meeting logistics.

International Facilitators Association
15050 Cedar Ave. South, #116-353, Apple Valley, MN 55124
952-891-3541
www.iaf-world.org
Professional association for meeting facilitators.

International Society of Protocol and Etiquette Professionals
13116 Hutchinson Way, Suite 200, Silver Spring, MD 20906-5947
301-946-5265
www.ispep.org
Professional association for experts, trainers and coaches in meeting etiquette, business etiquette, international and cross-cultural etiquette and customs, among other communication and interpersonal dynamics.

Meeting Professionals International
2711 Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway, Suite 600, Dallas, TX 75234-7349
972-702-3000
www.mpiweb.org
Professional association for those responsible for organizing, planning and managing meetings, including nonprofit, business and academic gatherings.

National Speakers Organization
1500 S. Priest Drive, Tempe, AZ 85281
480-968-2552
www.nsaspeaker.org/
Professional association for current and aspiring professional speakers.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680206.n1