Yes, they are a pain. But John Cleese is right: colleges (from the department level to the committee level), like any organizations, can’t function without them. As well, collaborative group projects for students can be a high-impact learning opportunity — but students like meetings about as much as we do.
I appreciate finding tips that make collaborative work easier — figured you would, too. So, here’s a piece from today’s online Chronicle on how working groups can hack their own organizational dynamics not only to improve performance, but to enhance buy-in from members as well.
April 21, 2014
They’re often a colossal waste of time. So how do we make them useful?
Mark Shaver for The Chronicle
How often do you hear a colleague say, “I’m so excited to attend today’s group meeting,” or a student remark, “How is it possible that my group meetings are so stimulating and engaging?”
What’s that? You’ve never heard anyone say those things? Me neither. I dread meetings for the same reason that everyone does: They’re usually a waste of time.
Most often, a meeting consists of a group of people who gather to discuss a particular topic, to make or move toward a decision, or to (dare I use the b-word?) brainstorm. These well-intentioned discussions too frequently involve only a few of the many present. The decision would usually be more efficiently made online. And as for brainstorming, the idea seems to work better in theory than in practice.
All across the country on a weekly basis we suffer in meetings. We waste time, we snooze. More and more, we don’t even pretend we’re engaged. People go to meetings with their phones purposefully juiced up, ready to send texts, check email, or play Fruit Ninja.
And that colossal waste of time occurs on a wide scale. Take research groups: According to the National Science Foundation, in the United States for the disciplines of science, engineering, and health combined, there were 62,947 postdoctoral researchers and 626,820 graduate students in 2011. At a rate of one two-hour group meeting a week, that amounts to roughly 69 million hours of their time spent each year in a typical research meeting—and that doesn’t count undergraduates, faculty members, or staff members. Out of those 69 million hours, we probably squeeze, at most, a million hours of true productivity.
It was that huge loss of potential that led me to seek a solution to my own research group’s weekly meetings.