How to Lead a Better Meeting: Kellogg’s Leigh Thompson on Common Collaboration Mistakes and Solutions

One of the oldest leadership gaffes in the book is to do things the way they’ve always been done, especially when it comes to meetings. If we really want to empower collaboration and generate great ideas we can act on as a team, old-school meeting strategies have to go. According to Kellogg School of Management Professor Leigh Thompson, the key is shaking things up a little.

Here are three common mistakes meeting-leaders make, and three practical solutions to encourage innovation and collaboration.

“1. The Problem: The “group-negative split.” Going with the first idea generated. Research indicates that most groups often generate just one or two ideas and then stop prematurely. They settle for the initial low-hanging fruit, and they quit. In fact, research indicates that 75 percent of ideas emerge in the first half of the meeting, and then people just fill time in unproductive ways. The key is knowing how to continue stimulating ideas.

The Solution: Invite a plethora of ideas. Encourage the absurd and the politically incorrect. Set all judgment aside and focus on generating as many ideas as possible. There will always be time to criticize later.

2. The Problem: Taking turns. If you politely (or impolitely) wait for your turn to speak, and team members are engaging in sequential conversations, you’ve already committed a cardinal meeting sin. A minority consumes a majority of the group’s scarcest resource—time. They monopolize that time, droning on and on.

The Solution: Ask group members to simultaneously generate ideas using Post-Its, note cards, index cards, or electronic submission. Groups that have words, pictures, and objects on the table generate more ideas than those in impoverished environments.

3. The Problem: Meeting for one or two hours. Most groups work to fill the scheduled time. Even more depressing, there is no appreciable improvement in performance when groups meet longer.

The Solution: A better idea is to cut your scheduled meeting time in half. Take a five- to 10-minute break and then resume, but only if necessary. So if your group regularly meets for an hour on Thursdays, set the clock for 30 minutes. Take a five-minute stretch break, in which incubation—unconscious thinking about the problem—can occur. Then meet for another 15 minutes.

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

It’s worth a try, isn’t it? Because in addition to encouraging effective collaboration, these strategies will increase trust and communication by avoiding death-by-meeting, arguably the biggest brain-drain in any organization.

What do you do to avoid death-by-meeting, and increase collaboration?

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