Why Meetings Can Make You Stupider (and How to Make Them Smarter)

boredmeetingFinally, a study proves what we’ve always said: Far from making you super-efficient machines of corporate productivity, meetings actually make you stupider.

“You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well,” says Read Montague, coauthor of the study and director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Montague says that meetings affect our ability to think — and he has the MRI evidence to prove it. Montague and his colleague Kenneth T. Kishida tested 70 students with IQs averaging about 126.

The students were divided into groups of five, and then randomly tested twice: once before the experiment, and once after being asked a series of questions and being given feedback on their answers. The goal was to duplicate the experience of participating in a meeting. Specifically, researchers hoped to show how feeling inferior to a colleague who seems to have all the answers (and the PowerPoint to back it up) makes people, well, dumber.

The second tests showed significant drops in IQ scores for students who participated in the meetings. So the good news is that you’re right when you say you feel stupider after a meeting. The bad news, however, is that you actually are stupider.

How can companies combat this problem? Other than having fewer meetings, which for many organizations, is not a feasible solution, companies might try a few of the following tricks to make meetings more productive:

1. Ask yourself if this meeting is really necessary.

Sure, some meetings are a necessary evil. But if you find that you’re having endless brainstorming sessions with no measurable results, consider scaling back to just the essential sessions.

2. Determine the objective ahead of time.

Before you drag everyone out of their office cubicles, make sure that you have real goals for your meeting. Write them down, like our ancestors did. After the close of each meeting, have the meeting organizer send points that need action or follow up.

3. Be on time, and don’t recap for latecomers.

There is nothing more frustrating than spending an hour in a meeting because half the team didn’t show up until 15 minutes in. Be respectful of people’s time, and insist that they do the same.

4. Don’t get into the weeds.

If people start talking about an issue unrelated to the main agenda, table it for later. You can always follow up afterward via email.

5. Minimize the number of presentations.

Everyone likes a chance to show off what they know, but only include presentations that are a definite benefit to everyone in attendance. Schedule too many PowerPoints and you’ll wind up with bored, frustrated colleagues. Or maybe just really stupid ones.

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