Performance Management

Is “Effective Meeting” an Oxymoron?

We all have them. Some people organize them. Some people lead them. Some people simply attend them. Most of us dread them: meetings. In the workplace, it is common for people to describe meetings as notorious time-wasters. So why do we still schedule and attend meetings? Do we still have a glimmer of hope that we can make them effective? Most advice in the popular media on meeting effectiveness is simply the writer’s opinion, based on their experiences and preferences. So what actually leads us to perceive a meeting as effective?

Meeting Design Characteristics

There are several design characteristics that a meeting can possess. These include having:
  • An agenda provided before the meeting in written form or provided at the meeting in written or verbal form.
  • Minutes recorded to clarify the main conclusions and follow-up that is necessary.
  • Punctuality of the start and end time of the meeting.
  • Facilities that provide appropriate comfort and minimal distractions.
  • A chairperson or leader who directs the pace of the meeting and keeps discussion on topic.
These characteristics serve to provide the components necessary to maximize the effectiveness of meetings. But do all of these characteristics equally lend to the perception of meeting effectiveness?

Which Design Characteristics Matter Most?

Although all of the listed design characteristics have a positive relationship with perceived meeting effectiveness, two in particular stand out: (1) use of an agenda, and (2) proper meeting facilities. Providing an agenda in advance of the meeting can allow attendees to prepare for the meeting, resulting in more effective contributions. When using an agenda, it’s also important that it be completed. Agenda completion suggests to the attendees that they got the most out of the time they invested. It can also serve as an indicator of good meeting management. Using proper meeting facilities is a critical component in making a meeting effective. Seating arrangement, lighting, room temperature, and refreshments should all be considered to maximize attendee comfort, and minimize distractions which ultimately lead to more effective meetings.

The Role of Attendee Involvement

Attendee involvement has a direct effect on perceptions of meeting effectiveness – the more involvement there is, the higher the attendees meeting effectiveness. Attendee involvement also mediates the relationship between the design characteristics and perceptions of meeting effectiveness: the use of design characteristics affects the level of attendee involvement, which in turn affects the perception of meeting effectiveness. This mediating relationship is particularly apparent for the following design characteristics:
  • Agenda use/completion
  • Punctuality
  • Proper meeting facilities
These characteristics lead to greater attendee involvement, which in turn leads to greater perceptions of effectiveness.

Other Things to Consider

While these design characteristics lead to greater effectiveness for meetings, there are two additional characteristics to consider: size and duration. The size of the meeting is important to consider because large meetings are generally associated with less attendee involvement, therefore more likely to be perceived as ineffective. The duration of a meeting can affect perceptions of meeting effectiveness, especially when the meeting is lengthy and the agenda is not completed. In these instances, longer meetings are perceived as less effective than shorter meetings.

Practical Implications

Meetings have the potential to be very effective in reaching organizational goals. With the current economic downturn and the negative perceptions surrounding most meetings, many companies are cutting back on the number of meetings they hold, as they require substantial staff time. For those meetings that remain, it is important for organizers to consider the factors that lead to the highest levels of attendee involvement and perceptions of effectiveness. Particularly, organizers should incorporate, follow, and complete an agenda and provide proper meeting facilities.

Interpretation by:

Lexy Adkins

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Leach, D. J., Rogelberg, S. G., Warr, P. B., & Burnfield, J. L. (2009). Perceived meeting effectiveness: The role of design characteristics. Journal of Business Psychology, 24, 65-76.