The Surprising Science of Meetings

How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance

Steven G. Rogelberg


Many managers regard inefficient, unproductive or boring meetings as an unavoidable business flaw. In this book, Professor Steven G. Rogelberg challenges this assumption with ideas on how to stop wasting time and energy by facilitating better meetings. He bases his advice on research, best practices and surveys.

Meetings – can’t live with them…

Everyone needs meetings, that appears to be the accepted truth. But everyone needs to meet more effectively. Meetings cause frustration, especially when they waste time and energy due to a bad meeting culture.

“Bad meetings should never be accepted as an organizational norm.”

Time spent in a meeting could be otherwise used doing work. So, if you manage meetings effectively, they ought to add to productivity – not detract from it.

In 2014, meetings cost the United States’ economy about $1.4 trillion – roughly 8% of the nation’s GDP that year.

The appliance of science

Getting rid of all meetings is not feasible. Without meetings, you would lose contact with your colleagues, disconnect from other departments and become single-minded about difficult problems. This book extols the value of ‘meetings science.’

Meeting feedback

How would you rate your meeting facilitation abilities?  Gain input by asking meeting participants for feedback. Collecting data and being open to that information will increase your awareness, which is the first step to improvement.

“What differentiates successful meeting leaders from the unsuccessful ones is the willingness to pick the right tool for the job at hand.”

Hold a meeting for 48 minutes

The number is almost irrelevant, the key point is that it will catch your colleagues’ attention.

‘Parkinson’s Law’ says the meeting will fill in the time you allot it.

A meeting leader should make a conscious choice about the meeting length based upon objectives, agenda items and number of participants.

Then, once you have an estimate, reduce that by 5% to 10% to add the extra time pressure that makes meetings more effective.

Consider a huddle as an alternative

In sports, coaches and team captains commonly use the term ‘huddle’ to describe a brief team gathering before or after a practice or game action. Many companies adopted this practice as a meeting format.

Huddles should last no longer than 15 minutes and take place at the same time every day.

Don’t overlook the agenda

Merely having an agenda doesn’t yield more effective meetings. Instead, be focused in the process of creating one.

“Short meetings with a focused agenda, facilitated effectively, can have tremendously positive effects.”

Important discussion items should go first. And convening the meeting, doesn’t mean you own the items. Increase accountability by assigning agenda items to participant-owners up front.

How many is too many?

Invite fewer participants to reduce ‘social loafing’; and instead encourage input before and after from ‘secondary stakeholders.’

More participants increases the wealth of ideas, diversity and resources but too many and the decision-making effectiveness decreases by roughly 10% per additional participant above seven.

“Never forget the one thing people dislike more than meetings: not being invited to a meeting.”

Revisit your meeting goals and determine who is indispensable to achieving those goals.

Aldo, think about inviting certain participants to specific sections only.

The seat is not the only solution

Walking and standing meetings add variety to your meeting culture and ensure that people “don’t get too comfortable in that chair.”

Set the mood

“Like playing dominos, how the meeting starts shapes the rest of the meeting.”

Paying attention to the emotions in your meetings is part of successful meeting leadership.

“The research is clear on the concept of emotional contagion: Moods travel quickly.”

So, how do you create positive moods? Greet participants, offer refreshments or snacks. Discourage multitasking (maybe create ‘technology-free zones,’ banning personal laptops, phones and smart devices)

Is this book for you?

“If I die, I hope it’s during a staff meeting because the transition to death would be so subtle.”

If any of the above points resonate, I’d say this is definitely worth a read. There are more points made in the book and logic says you won’t try them all at once. Pick the one you think will have the biggest impact and once it’s part of the meeting culture, choose another…and so on.

Or be bold, and transform your meetings once and for all.

Either way, I suspect no company has meetings so well managed that you can’t gain some useful nuggets from this book.