10 ways meetings are dumbing us down

According to a recent study, group environments diminish team members’ individual problem-solving capabilities.


Meetings make us stupid.

You’ve long suspected that, but research from Virginia Tech offers affirmation.

According to the 2012 study, people in groups struggle to solve the same kinds of problems they are fully capable of solving on their own.

The researchers investigated how information about social status and perceptions of social status affected the ability to solve problems. Comparing yourself negatively against others—as might occur in a brainstorming meeting in which everyone shares his or her ideas—alters the way your brain processes information, and it decreases your ability to solve problems.

Setting aside the social status aspect, here are some other reasons meetings are making us stupid:

1. Why are we here? This occurs when there is no clear reason for the meeting. Perhaps the meeting request was ambiguous or the meeting facilitator jumps right in and fails to state the objective of the meeting.

2. Invariably, someone is late or unprepared. You show up on time to the meeting, but the facilitator is still setting up the projector. All you can think about is how much work you have to do when you get back to your desk.

3. People are afraid to say what’s on their minds. This, again, relates to social status, as we fear public criticism or conflict.

4. Attendees have their own agendas. The facilitator says he called the meeting to solicit opinions, but it’s quite clear to everyone in the room that he already has made up his mind.

5. People repeat themselves. Either for emphasis or as a strong-arm tactic, attendees keep hearing about the same issues. The issues are talked to death, and no real solutions are offered.

6. Can we take this offline? This occurs when two attendees discuss an issue that pertains only to them and not to the rest of the group. This is a colossal waste of everyone else’s time.

7. Someone won’t stop talking. We’ve all been in meetings in which one person dominates the proceedings. When others try to get a word in, they are shushed and told to wait their turn.

8. PowerPoint read-along. The presenter stands up and simply reads the PowerPoint slides. He or she may also provide everyone with a copy of the slides so they can read along, too.

9. The venue itself. The meeting room is either too hot or too cold. It’s too bright to see the screen, or the slides are blurry. The projector stops working, or the Internet goes down.

10. People stop listening, for any of the above reasons.

Ragan readers: Care to add any meeting-related gripes to the list?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. She writes about writing at www.impertinentremarks.com.

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