Is the big office meeting a slacker’s best friend?

Yes it is! To those who like to sit back, relax and listen to other people chat, there is ample space to hide in the get-together that is full of attendees. But if you want to get your team moving forward, you need to cut those slackers out of your meeting by drastically reducing your invitation list.

Although intuition might tell us that meetings benefit from any additional brainpower in the room, science reveals that inviting extra attendees is actually counterproductive.

Why? Well, as meeting size increases, the likelihood of social loafing increases, too. This phenomenon describes the tendency of individuals to reduce their efforts and motivation when they work in a group. One study highlighted social loafing by measuring how much effort people playing tug of war expend. By putting a device on the rope that calculated force, the researchers found that those who tugged in groups of three expended 85 percent of their potential pulling ability, whereas those in a group of eight tugged with just 49 percent of their potential strength. So to make sure everyone pulls their weight in your next meeting, try keeping the numbers as low as possible.

Moreover, even when attendants do their best to be productive, evidence suggests that their efforts are hindered by being at a large meeting. Just consider a recent study which examined data from Bain & Company consulting firm. The researchers looked at what happened to the decision-making capacity of groups as the number of people involved grew. They found that if a group increased beyond seven members, each extra individual lowered the group’s ability to make an effective decision by a staggering 10 percent.

So, just how many people should you invite to your next meeting?

Luckily, one man might have found the answer. John Kello is a management consultant who has spent much of his career studying meetings. He concludes that seven attendees is the ideal number of people for decision-making. This is because, as group sizes get bigger, coordinating everyone becomes harder, so inefficiencies surrounding the process of decision-making are more likely to arise.

Some of the best leaders in the world appear to be agreeing with Kello ‘s analysis. For example, Steve Jobs was renowned for his hatred of large meetings. When President Obama invited him to a meeting of high-profile tech executives, Jobs turned him down. Why? For what? He figured the meeting was too big to get anything done.

The business world is littered with products that failed miserably. Remember Harley Davidson’s cologne, or lighter company Bic’s throwaway underwear? If you do, then you’d probably rather you didn’t. This raises the question – why do successful companies market products that are obviously doomed to fail? Remarkably, it seems the answer may have everything to do with bad meetings.

Upon analyzing the circumstances around the launch of these ill-fated goods and those like them, many industry analysts have concluded that, for one big reason, poor decisions are taken – the people concerned did not raise their concerns during meetings.

Evidence shows it’s commonplace to hide vital details. Only consider a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that challenged a group to agree on a given subject. Prior to the group meeting, the researchers provided information about this topic to each of the participants. Crucially, some of this information was shared with everyone, whereas other pieces of information were only shared with a single person. The experiment was designed so that if the participants each shared their unique piece of information, they could reach an optimal solution. But if they withheld their unique knowledge, and only shared the information that was known to all of them, they couldn’t reach this optimal solution.

The result? As we might have predicted, the attendees were much less likely to discuss the information that was unique to them than the common knowledge, and an optimal decision was not reached. This same experiment has been conducted more than 65 times. More often than not, the participants don’t arrive at the right solution.

In view of these findings, it’s clear that the traditional meeting is an inadequate format for soliciting attendees’ unique insights. Luckily, a technique called brainwriting may hold the answer. Every attendee writes down their thoughts anonymously during a brainwriting session, instead of expressing them verbally. This allows them to share their unique perspective or knowledge which is all too often missing from traditional meetings as we have seen. The meeting leader then takes these notes, and checks them privately.

Although this might sound simple, numerous studies comparing brainwriting formats to traditional meetings suggest it leads to a higher number of better quality ideas. One study, for example, found that brainwriting meetings generated more original ideas by a staggering 42 percent! So when it comes to meetings, it might be time to stop talking and get writing.

You’ll probably know how emotionally draining a bad mood can be. As well as exhausting, negativity is contagious. Indeed, research suggests that if someone around us is in a bad mood, we are at risk of contracting their negativity. Not only that, but a bad mood also threatens to undermine the effectiveness of your meetings.

In fact, creating a positive vibe during meetings is crucial to their success.

For example, St. Louis University researchers found that groups in which people were in a good mood were better at carrying out creative tasks than groups in which members were in a negative or neutral mentality. They also found that groups enjoyed better engagement between members in a good mood, and were more likely to share and apply knowledge from all members. Another study examined footage of real meetings. They found that meetings that contained more jokes and laughter also had a more emotionally supportive atmosphere, held more constructive discussions and produced more innovative solutions to problems.

Unfortunately, many of us are primed to go into our meetings with a negative mindset.

This is because we interpret the meeting as a frustrating interruption from whatever important work we were doing before. With this in mind, it’s vital that the meeting leader creates a positive atmosphere as soon as attendees enter the meeting room.

There are several ways to do this. Firstly, consider playing music in the meeting room when attendees first come in. Music should help mark a distinction between the annoyance feelings of the attendees at being disrupted and the meeting that is about to take place. You could also approach the first person to come in, ask them who are their favorite artists and put on their music. Secondly, the author’s own research has found that delivering delicious snacks during a meeting supports positiveness. Lastly, consider providing some toys for people to play with during the meeting, such as play dough or small puzzles. Evidence from New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineerings suggests that the sort of hand movements that these toys require promote lower stress levels, boost focus and redirect pent-up energy toward the task at hand.

The standard office meeting is too large and too unfocused to allow for great teamwork. Seek to make it shorter, more optimistic and less talkative to whip up your weekly meeting into form. Do not be afraid to prune your list of invites and make sure that you prioritize subjects that are highly important to your participants.

Try this for your next meeting. Remove the phones.

If you are thinking of carrying out your next meeting remotely, with all or several people phoning in, you may want to think twice. In reality, attending meetings over the phone allows people to may their efforts and make less of a contribution. Because telephone attendants are out of sight, and their voices can not be readily distinguishable from other remote participants, they feel anonymous. And research shows that there is less probability of people working hard anonymously. So try to encourage those who can’t be there in person to attend the meeting via Skype or video call instead, instead of phoning it in. Just being visible will give a sizeable boost to their motivation.

Check out my related post: Two pizzas at a meeting anyone?

Interesting reads:


  1. ♡ How about One-On-One from The Bosses; those Bosses who actually Work instead of GasBagging Garbage at Big Gatherings like Politicians 🤔 ?


    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s