Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Meetings Make You Stupid

Dumbed down by meetings?

Office "groupthink" may hurt your productivity

By Christopher Null
The Working Guy
Yahoo! Tech
Fri Feb 23, 2007 12:33PM EST

Now there's some science behind what every cube dweller has known for years: Meetings are worthless and, in fact, are counterproductive.

A scientific study asked participants to think of as many brands of soft drinks as they could. When part of a group, the participants' final list was shorter than the lists from participants working alone who were asked to do the same thing. This MSNBC story is light on details of the study, but you get the idea: Groupthink extends beyond the swaying of opinions toward a homogenized central viewpoint, even reaching into basic tasks like making lists of facts.

Naturally, this contradicts generations of research that say groups come up with better decisions than individuals. I remember my first day of business school, where our "organizational behavior" class was asked to individually rank a list of 15 items from most important to least important that we would find useful when stranded in a frozen wilderness. We then did the same task in groups of five. Compared to the "expert" list, groups had, on average, slightly better results... however I've always felt those results were flawed. (I deemed a bottle of whiskey much more important than the experts because I thought it might help in starting a fire, for example.)

But the bigger problem with the group results was that it didn't offer any outlet for those who had exceptional ideas: Several people in the class outscored the average by quite a bit, and their scores were brought down by the group project. As a business manager, you should ask yourself: Do you want to seek out these exceptional staff members? Or do you let everyone throw a bunch of random ideas into a pot and wait for something tolerable to rise to the top?

Of course, some meetings are necessary as a means of getting information out to a large number of people at once, but when it comes to brainstorming and creativity, you might be better off letting people work alone.

Feel free to email this to your boss right away.

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