A professor who's spent years studying effective management says some of the best meetings involve almost no talking

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coworkers strategy office workSebastian ter Burg

  • To come up with a more creative idea, minimize talking in meetings at work.
  • Instead, have participants write down their suggestions anonymously and share them.
  • This way, everyone can share their thoughts without fear of looking silly.
  • That's according to Steven G. Rogelberg, author of "The Surprising Science of Meetings."

Meetings get a bad rap. At best, they're pointless; at worst, they're soul-sucking.

A new book, "The Surprising Science of Meetings," aims to revamp meetings' reputation, with strategies for maximizing their efficiency and eliminating the pain that comes with them. The author is Steven G. Rogelberg, a professor of management at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and a consultant to companies like IBM and Procter & Gamble.

One of Rogelberg's most compelling ideas is no-talking meetings (or, at least, no-talking portions of meetings). Apparently, talking, and specifically group brainstorming out loud, is where things go awry. Some people are too embarrassed to share their ideas; some people babble for so long that everyone else forgets their ideas.

Read more: 9 expert tips to hold meetings that don't waste people's time

To that end, Rogelberg proposes "brainwriting." Instead of people talking through ideas together, each meeting participant writes down their ideas on paper - without their name. The group leader has the option to pass around the papers (or place them throughout the room) so everyone can read them and add their thoughts.

Research suggests that silent brainstorming yields better and higher-quality ideas than talking out loud.

Another option is to open every meeting with a period of silent reading, a strategy that makes sure everyone does the assigned reading instead of just pretending. Only then does a verbal discussion take place.

Amazon has been known to hold meetings this way. In an interview at the George Bush Presidential Center in April 2018, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said: "For every meeting, someone from the meeting has prepared a six-page, narratively structured memo that has real sentences and topic sentences and verbs. It's not just bullet points. It's supposed to create the context for the discussion we're about to have."

Rogelberg sums it up: "If attendees don't share key information and insights relevant to the meetings goals, especially information they hold uniquely, the meeting is destined for mediocrity, at best."
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