On Friday, I presented my synopsis of Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter by Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie (Harvard Business Review Press; 2014). I started my presentation this way:
The problem is not too many meetings; the problem is too many bad meetings.
There is no doubt that practically all progress comes from groups and teams that work well together toward common goals. Without groups, without teams, and thus without meetings, little would ever get done.
The issue is not too many meetings – it is that so many meetings are not all that productive.
So, let’s think about some characteristics of good meetings, and of bad meetings.
#1 – The group succeeds at clearly defining the issue, and/or the problem, to be dealt with.
#2 – The group succeeds at accessing the greater wisdom of the entire group, rather than relying on the insight of only one member (especially the “leader/boss”).
#2a – Which means that the group has wisdom and expertise to share. In other words, the members of the group are selected carefully for this group; this team.
#3 – The group/team arrives at actual solutions and/or plans of attack. And then, the group figures out the best solution; the best plan of attack.
#4 – The group ends the meetings with clear next steps for all, as part of the plan to implement the chosen solution/plan of attack on the issue.
So, if these are some characteristics of good meetings, what about the bad meetings? It turns out that one really big problem is that if everyone is already thinking the same way from the very beginning, then Groupthink results. And Groupthink is not good.
And, another danger is that groups shut down once the “leader” (“boss; supervisor”) speaks up.
#1 – The boss speaks first (maybe, the boss speaks at all). If the group has wisdom and insight to access, then maybe the best plan is for the boss to sit in silence. (Note: silence even means controlling body language cues). In other words, the boss wants the group to arrive at the plan. She/he is not there to mandate. Nothing can quite shut down group process like the “final word of the boss.”
#2 – The group is not clear on its purpose.
#3 – The group has the wrong participants. The members of a group need to be prepared, and to have some expertise that is needed by the overall group. And the group members need to be diverse – diverse in background, in age, in gender… in every way.
In fact, current research is indicating that the simple presence of more diversity, including especially more women, is a very smart thing to aim for…
#4 – The group is made up of members committed to anything other than the success of the group. Such alternative commitments include: commitment to their own career advancement, their own reputation, over the success of the group.
Let’s not consider this list as exhaustive. But, let’s learn to ask – if we’re going to invest all this time in group meetings, how do we do it right? How do we make the most of our group meetings?
Getting groups and teams and group/team meetings right is a critical part of any path to success.