Oct. 12, 2021

Meeting Management: Steven Rogelberg Ph.D.

Meeting Management: Steven Rogelberg Ph.D.

In today’s episode we will talk about Meeting Management. No matter if you work in office, at home or if you have your own business, you must attend meetings. Seems like a lot of our life is spent in these and oftentimes these are not productive at...

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In today’s episode we will talk about Meeting Management. No matter if you work in office, at home or if you have your own business, you must attend meetings. Seems like a lot of our life is spent in these and oftentimes these are not productive at all.
Today you will learn how to be the person that creates meeting people want to actually attend. We will learn about scientifically proven methods.

My guest today has been studying meetings for many years. Dr. Steven Rogelberg (https://www.stevenrogelberg.com/) is an Organizational Psychologist and his work is quite well known around the world thanks in part to his book The Surprising Science of Meetings. Today we talk about dos and don’ts of meeting management, and specific lessons to improve your experience, especially in world where virtual meetings are simply the norm.
You can find resources shared by Dr. Rogelberg here: https://www.stevenrogelberg.com/speaking-consulting-outreach

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Connect with me via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/yadiraycaro/  or email me at yadi@hardcoresoftskillspodcast.com 


Yadi Caro: Thank you so much Dr. Rover for being here with me and the Hardcore Soft Skills podcast. 

Steven Rogelberg: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.

YC: So, first of all, what made you want to study or first of all your field in psychology.

SR: Oh, so why was I interested in studying organizational psychology? Okay. Well, it's a, um, kind of a silly response and that, when I was in university, I was a pretty struggling undergrad. And, then in my junior year of university, my father called me home to say, Hey, what are you going to do when you graduate? And I had no answer to that. Because I, I just didn't, I wasn't a very serious student. But for the first time in my undergraduate career, I was getting an A in a class and that class was organizational psychology. So because I had no other good answer, I said, I'm going to become an organizational psychologist.

YC: Wonderful. So it was a natural choice for you.

SR: It was a survival choice to make, to not get into trouble with my father. But it's certainly been a good choice. I'm very grateful.

YC: Wonderful. And then within that field, there's so many areas within an organizational psychology. I've just started getting into school and I realized there are so many, so many things to study from. So why did you decide to study about the science of meetings, which are, by the way, I did not know there was such much depth into this study of meetings. 

SR: Yeah. So my thing as an organizational psychologist is I like to study things that are really frustrating for people. Things that cause a lot of distress. And my motivation is that I'd love to try to find an evidence-based path that can help people and meetings certainly fit that bill. Right. They, definitely caused that distress. And when I first started in to the meeting space, there was very little out there. So I saw it as a great opportunity to do work that advances our science, but, also very importantly do work that can help people.

YC: That's wonderful. Yes. Because particularly now it just seems as we transitioning to working from home or, you know, in our day today, the number one thing, I guess, that people mentioned that kind of, uh, they don't like a lot is the meetings. In your book, you also talk about that the solution is not necessarily eliminating meetings at all. Why are still meetings, important for an organization?

SR: So meetings represent an evolution of sorts, right? So when you think about the industrial revolution and we basically use command and control processes, right? We didn't care about employee voice. We didn't care about employee engagement. We didn't care about democracy at work and meetings are an evolution of that, where we basically, recognize that organizations and teams and people are better to the extent that we foster collaboration and coordination, that employee voice matters. So I see meetings as an absolutely critical, um, organizational process for elevating, you know, employee voice.

YC: What are some of the things that make a bad meeting as you, based on all your research, what are some of those key things that make just a meeting, not so productive? 

SR: Well, we don't even need research on this. I could interview anyone, right? It's that meeting that you go to that, you're wondering, why am I here? Where there's a ton of people. Um, so it's not relevant to you. There's so many people that you really can't even get air time to express yourself. The leader is not embracing, you know, their role as a facilitator. So as the meeting goes off the rails, um, the leaders not fixing it, uh, the meeting goes long. It doesn't even end on time. It starts late. You have a couple individuals completely dominating, not allowing other voices to emerge. Conflict Isn't resolved constructively. You leave the meeting, wondering what was actually decided. You have no clue. So basically it is a tremendous waste of time.

YC: Absolutely. And yes, cause certainly agree. I'm sure we're all being in part of many meetings like that. Um, now I like in your book, you mentioned several key points on how can we start improving meetings. One thing that struck me that was very important that I haven't thought about before was the importance of silence in meetings. Can you talk a little bit about that?

SR: Sure. Uh, so they're around a hundred million meetings a day around the globe and what's really striking is how similar they look. You know, there's just a lack of creativity and intentionality to make these meeting experiences, uh, different.  To think, to recognize that there's a lot of different things you can do in a meeting to advance the meeting's goals. So silence is a technique that can be done in meetings that has all kinds of positive outcomes. So there's been research on the silence and basically, the core of this research is they compare, uh, groups, brainstorming in silence, right. Just typing, um, their thoughts on a topic into a Google doc or what have you and app versus those brainstorming with their mouse and those groups brainstorming and silence yield as nearly twice as many ideas. And those ideas had to be more creative. 

So basically silence is an opportunity to elevate more voices. It's an opportunity for everyone in a sense to talk at once, um, right, because you're not waiting your turn. The power dynamics are fundamentally different because it's a simultaneous entry of ideas. So you know, I don't at all believe that silence should be done all the time, but I absolutely believe that leaders can be thoughtful. And if their task is something around, brainstorming, give silence a shot. Um, people will welcome it. Um, it feels different. Um, it's so easy to do in a virtual environment and it will have positive outcomes.

YC: Yeah. And another thing that you mentioned in the book as the aspect of the agendas, because there's a perception when we see how to improve the meetings of immediately just have a clear agenda and the meeting will kind of flow through. Now, you say that's not necessarily the case. Can you talk about what a good agenda or the importance, if at all, of agendas in the meeting. 

SR: So the research on agendas is quite equivocal. Agendas in and of itself  really do very little to impact meaning effectiveness. And if you stop and reflect, that kind of makes sense. I mean, first of all, so much of, uh, many agendas are just recycled meeting to meeting. Um, what matters more than having a, just having that piece of paper with agenda items is, well, what's on that piece of paper, right? Did you solicit input? Is it truly relevant to the individuals? Are they agenda items of importance and then what matters even more is whether you, how you facilitate the completion of those agenda items. So most meeting books say, Hey, you just got to have an agenda. My chapter is called the agendas are a hollow crutch because people think by having the agenda, now they've done a good job. They're a good meeting leader and that's just false. Agendas absolutely can do positive things, but they just have to be very thoughtfully constructed and then carry it out. 

But on the topic of agendas, would you like to hear an innovation on agendas?

YC:  Absolutely. 

SR: All right. So most agendas are structured as a set of topics to be discussed, but I want to challenge meeting leaders to try to structure their agenda as a set of questions to be answered. And by structuring your agenda as a set of questions to be answered, you have a much better sense of who needs to be at the meeting, right. They're relevant to the questions. By structuring as questions, now you've created in a sense, a set of goals. So you've created focus around these questions. By framing his questions you know when to end the meeting and if a meeting has been successful because the questions have been answered. And finally, if you just can't think of any questions, what do you think you have to do? 

YC: Send me an email, probably. 

SR: Yes, you probably don’t need the meeting. 

YC: Think that's great. I really like that formula to help prevent people from over taking the whole meeting, just to talk about our status or something like that.

SR: Perhaps that's a good point.

YC: And you've talked earlier about virtual meetings and the importance of silence in virtual meetings. What are other key things now that it seems that most of the meetings we cannot do face to face and we don't have visual cues, what are some good practices that we can implement now to make the virtual meetings less awkward?

SR: I mean, virtual meetings at this point are improving in quality. People are getting better at them. in fact, I see more potential with virtual meetings than I do with face-to-face meetings. you know, virtual meetings bring that alternative communication channel, you know, through chat. You can integrate all kinds of great apps and tools for voting and things like that. So virtual meetings really hold a lot of promise. Even a small thing, there’s no head of table effects, right? People, you know, it doesn't matter where you sit it's all in level playing field, cause you're all flat on a screen. So virtual meetings really are potentially fabulous and you know, the, the same key rules apply. We got to make these things as small as we, as we humanly can, we got to make them tight. 

So not allow them to be long, right? Because you know, people don't want to stare at their screens for too long. So we got to keep them short. You know, probably the most unique factor is really around video and, um, you know, what our research shows is that it's all it's best to have video on. Um, and yes, while it can may contribute to a little bit of extra fatigue, the fact is that, um, it also creates presence and that's exceptionally important.  As an aside, you know, the best way to address fatigue in, in these meetings is actually to have a good meeting. People don't report fatigue if it's been a really good meeting. They report the fatigue when it's a bad meeting.

 So that's even more important than, um, you know, just saying, Hey everyone, you can turn off your video. You know, then I think another really key piece with, all meetings, but especially virtual meetings is the meeting leader just actively facilitating, right. Calling people out. Again, it's all that, all those behaviors designed to create presence, you know, where people just can't multitask, that leader is orchestrating and guiding the experience.

YC: Yeah. That's key because when it comes to virtual meetings, you feel like if you turn off the camera or, you know, or set chatting on the side privately with another colleague that could get a little bit distracting, I guess. So that's very important too.

You've also talked about the time of the meetings in terms of making it like odd times, does that also apply to virtual meetings in terms of like a, not making a meeting an hour, just like 48 minutes or something along those lines?

SR: I mean, what I really advocate for is making choices, you know, don't let your outlook or Google calendar tell you how long your meetings should be. Right. Don't default to the one hour, make a choice. I mean, look at your goals and agenda and say, okay, this should take, you know, 35 minutes. This should take 22 minutes, whatever it is, make that choice and then set your meeting times purposefully and intentionally. So that's really the, you know, the message I tried to convey in the book.

The best meeting leaders are intentional. The best meeting leaders recognize that they are stewards of other's time, right? So if you kind of embrace that notion of stewardship and you embrace that notion of intentionality. Now you're able to design  a really, meaningful meeting for folks that they leave their saying it, that was a good use of time. I'm glad that I was there.

YC: This advice is great for meeting organizers in terms of being conscious of how to create better meetings. What if we're in those meetings and we are not the organizers. How can we influence that to create a better meeting experience?

SR: So meeting attendees, they don't have many options, right? That's the thing that's frustrating about meetings is that we relinquish our power. We give our power to someone else, the meeting leader, and that's why we become so frustrated with bad meetings. But with that said, there are a few things that we can do.  First of all, we can be a model attending, right? We can behave the way that we hope all others behave. Right. We could be sure that we're actively listening. Right. We could keep our contribution succinct. Right. We can make sure that we don't go off on tangents so we can make sure our house is in order. Second is that we can also be a shadow facilitator. Right? We could help bring out more voices. We can say, Hey, you know what, um, Gordon, I haven't heard from you. I'd love to hear, I know you were working on something like this, right? So we could do these behaviors to help elevate the meeting experience. 

And then the final thing I would say is that while you do relinquish power and we don't have that many options, when we're an attendee, the fact is we can all find some meeting that we lead. So make sure that you're doing a good job with your meetings, right? Because sometimes, um, sometimes we aren't doing as well as we think we are. And that's, um, you know, one of the things I I'm sure you noticed in the book, cause I talk about this notion of a meeting leader blind spot that the research generally shows that meeting leaders have an inflated sense of how good that meeting was. So if you think they're generally good, you're not very motivated to make changes.

And so what I encourage all individuals to do is, you know, reflect more candidly on how your meetings are. Are you doing all the talking? Are there side conversations? Is everyone chatting? Have you ever done a quick survey of people who attend your regular meetings saying, you know, what's going well, not so well and things to make it better. And if the answer is no, then it means that you're probably got some blind spots and there's some things that you can do. Um, so I'm a big believer that we can all find some meeting that we lead and let's do an excellent job with that. Let's be the example that we hope others will follow.

YC: You also talk about the negative impact of, for an organization. I should say the cost of, of meetings for an organization and based on your field and organizational psychology, how, what is the impact aside from frustration for the employees, but the economic and, any emotional or physical impact from attending either too many meetings or too many bad meetings?

SR: Yeah. I mean, there's definitely, um, a negative impact. You know, you mentioned frustration, um, there's an impact on employee engagement, impact on certainly the bottom line, right? Cause we can pause a meeting and as a result, if it's not an effective use of time, that's lost money. Furthermore there's opportunity costs, right. We could be doing something else. There's even something called meeting recovery syndrome, which is the idea that when we have a bad meeting, it just doesn't end at the door or virtual door. It sticks with us. We ruminate and co ruminate and it actually can negatively affect our productivity post-meeting so there's a whole host of negative consequences of bad meetings. 

But on the other hand, you know, meetings done well actually have positive consequences. You know, meetings done well are not places of drain. They can actually be paid places of gain, you know, and we've found that linkage that when a supervisor or a leader is thoughtful in their meeting, calls, relevant meetings, create psychological safety in meetings, um, manages time effectively. Meetings that those employees report overall more engagement with their jobs, not just the meeting, but with their jobs overall,

YC: Before we go, I need to ask you from your personal experience on meetings, what, how does that good meeting they look for you?

SR: Hmm. A good meeting day for me. Well, I, um, so I, I certainly in the world that I live, I, I know I have to have meetings. So probably a good meeting cadence for me is maybe there would be a day with the morning is a bunch of back-to-back meetings with very short breaks between so I can breathe and stand up and move around. But then there's a block of time in the afternoon, um, where I have more control and I can engage in more deeper thought. So when I think about that as potentially being a day, um, then maybe the next day, maybe there'll even be no meetings. And then the next day after that, I would pack more meetings in there. Again more in close proximity of one another. So it's not an absence of meetings, but it's just more proactive in making sure that I have both we time and me time.

YC: If people want to know more about, uh, your work or have any more questions for you or they want some help from you. What's the best way to contact you? Sure.

SR: Um, well definitely com go to my website. Its, Stevenrogelberg.com and then you maybe put that in your show notes or something like that, or the surprising science.com. But if you go to Steven Rogelberg dot com, I have a ton of resources, uh, for people and, you know, just, I try to make everything available to help people on their quest. Obviously there's also links, , to my book and encourage people to check that out. I'm donating all my proceeds to COVID charities. If you like meetings, you could check out the book or if you just want to give to charity, you can buy the book, but I hope people will visit the website.

YC: Well, that's wonderful. And thank you so much for that initiative. This is a, that's great though, taking the opportunity to create consciousness about the current situation. So thank you for that. All right. Thank you so much for being here with me today and for sharing all your knowledge. So this is great. 

SR: Much. Well, thank you. You, you did a fabulous job. I really appreciate it. And thank you for having me on your show.