Stop having meetings

Don’t you just hate meetings? Well, you can stop going to them right now, because often they don’t work at all, argues science journalist Ellen de Bruin. Renate van der Zee talked to her about it in Flow magazine issue 10.

You say that meetings are often nonsense. Would you mind explaining that?
If it’s just a few of you devising a plan, that’s fine, but if you’re gathered there with twenty people, here’s what you should know: Half of the participants in the meeting won’t say a word, and a good third of the people sitting there are busy making shopping lists or thinking about sex. That group is doing absolutely nothing work-wise, and that’s unproductive. The more people there are at a meeting, the less any one single individual can contribute, and that’s just for starters. That’s what psychosocial researchers have discovered: the more people present, the fewer are active.

What possessed you to write a book about this?
I often find meetings deadly boring. They just deserve to be contested. They cost time, money and the joy of living. You’re just hanging around and they bring out the worst in people. There are always types who love hearing themselves talk, but nothing actually happens. It’s just too bad! That’s why a while back I started writing a column on meetings in [the Dutch newspaper] NRC Handelsblad. The first sentence was always: “Meetings: people shouldn’t go to them.” And then I’d discuss an aspect of meetings, such as decision-making or brainstorming, and then I’d explain from the scientific research perspective why it really makes no sense to do that at a meeting. Many years later, people were still telling me they liked that column and they’d ask me when I was planning to write a book about it. Eventually, I caved in.

But isn’t a meeting a good place for exchanging information efficiently?
No, they’re often no good for that. Research shows that people tend to talk mainly about what they already know at meetings, because that’s safe and secure and they agree on that. They never put all the information they have on the table.

You can read the full article in Issue 10.

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Illustration: Annelinde Tempelman – Studio 100%

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