Meetings and a Lack of Intelligence

We have all sat in meetings where it felt like brain cells were screaming before running to throw themselves off some high plateau in our brain to end their misery.  Although this might seem a little dramatic, most of us have sat through a meeting with little relevance or value to business operations.  Modern business fell in loving with meetings as part of a desire to be more coordinated, communicative, and team-focused, but instead created a time hungry monster that exists at times exclusively for the sake of itself.  This is not to say that meetings are inherently bad.  However, it is important to understand their context and impact on participants.

I have worked with organizations that literally their major productive activity was conducting meetings instead of satisfying customers, completing required tasks, or expanding opportunities.  In one recent, yet extreme example, the senior leaders were in meetings almost 95 percent of the time.  When examining what was accomplished, the same volume of output could have been realized in ten percent of the time. Although this is extreme, we would probably all agree that the time we spend meeting could be managed better.

What about this notion that meetings make us dumber?  Is it true? The answer is “sometimes” according to a recent study in Virginia by Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carillion Research Institute.  However, the reason may be different than you would think.  The study included two groups matched by IQ to assess the ability to perform cognitive tasks after meeting or not ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/business-meetings-are-making-you-dumb_n_1260577.html ).  When group members were made aware of how others performed and witnessed other social clues, it diminished some ability to complete their work as well as those not exposed to others.  In other words, interaction actually lowered personal performance instead of enhancing it in some people.  If a person observes that he or she is not as smart as someone else, it will actually diminish their own abilities and effectiveness.  The article summarizes this point by concluding that “our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning.”

What do the results of this research mean for the workplace?

Group dynamics should be taken into account when considering team results – Anytime a group of people get together to make decisions; there will be a social dynamic that occurs.  As social beings, we are influenced by the characteristics of and interaction with others.  Consequently, the environment plays a role in performance as well as outcomes of participants.

Meetings may not bring out the best in everyone – Since some people are influenced more by their surroundings that others, it is important to gauge the best environment for a person to excel.  If you are assembling teams or setting up meetings, the composition and “rules of engagement” should be determined in advance in order to maximize success of the participants.  An employee may shine more when working alone than when surrounded by peers.

Bragging may make one more competitive for a short time – Most organizational cultures value and recognize those that do a good job and bring their contributions to the forefront.  This research demonstrates if that if an employee reminds others of his or her success, it will diminish the confidence of a segment of his or her peers.  Put simply, looking good in front of others may make me look good longer due to the social dynamic.  As a leader in an organization, we strive to make as many people successful as possible.   So, it is not necessarily a good thing when one person is successful at the expense of the team floundering.

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