Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock and Simone Kauffeld, both of Technische Universität Braunschweig, published “Meetings Matter: Effects of Team Meetings on Team and Organizational Success” in Small Group Research‘s OnlineFirst collection. Professor Kauffeld kindly provided the following responses.
What inspired you to be interested in this topic?
Prior to my academic career, I worked as a group facilitator in a large German company. I facilitated workshops and examined meetings that were part of the Continuous Improvement Process (CIP). I was astonished at the things that happened in those meetings. Although there was usually an agenda for the meeting, there was plenty of complaining instead of talking about solutions. Responsibility was frequently denied, people talked about what they had seen on TV the day before, and there were even statements such as “I work here 7.25 hours a day, and other than that I won’t do anything”. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to examine these phenomena in a research setting; so in a way, meetings have always been on my mind.
Were there findings that were surprising to you?
There were three findings that I found surprised me:
1) We actually did find significant links between meeting behaviors and organizational success. This link can be understood in terms of a chain of events: Participants’ meeting satisfaction leads to better implementation of the meeting results, which affects team productivity and finally organizational success (in this study, up to 2.5 years after the meetings we examined).
2) Meetings represent organizational culture; variance within the organizations we examined was much smaller than variance between organizations. Thinking about meetings as an expression of organizational culture can help explain why we found a relationship between meeting behaviors and organizational success. For example, when a team meeting is characterized by complaining and denying responsibility, this says something about the organization in which this team meeting takes place. Similarly, when meetings are characterized by successful problem-solving and proactive statements, this reflects on the employing organization as well.
3) In this study, we found extremely little proactive behavior. In an average team meeting, there are only two action planning statements per hour; but four times as much complaining. This finding suggests that teams prefer to dwell on the negative status quo, to talk about why everything will stay as it is and why they can’t do anything about that.
How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?
First, our study emphasizes the importance of meetings in organizations. Measuring organizational culture is very difficult, however our findings suggests that meetings provide an access to this.
Second, meetings can be understood as an expression of how well a team is functioning. This has practical implications: An analysis of team meeting processes can be used as a starting point for customized team coaching processes.
Third, the present findings influenced our own research: After seeing the impact of these meeting behaviors, we have become real fans of interaction analysis in organizational teams. We have recently begun to examine patterns in team interaction (e.g., complaining or proactive cycles; see Lehmann-Willenbrock et al., in press, Small Group Research). Examining interaction rather than attitudes moves I/O research away from the more traditional focus on surveys and questionnaires, focusing on real behavior instead. Although interaction analysis is admittedly more work than evaluating questionnaire, the data you get is so much richer.
Fourth, the functional and dysfunctional meeting behaviors we identified in this study could relate to other settings as well – for example, in consultant-client-interaction or in leader-follower interaction.
Finally, this research has triggered ongoing methodological advances for examining team interaction, including new software applications.
What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?
Gathering the data – recruiting the teams and analyzing their interaction – was extremely time-consuming. Although the results show that this was well worth the effort, I think it is tricky to conduct this kind of research today. Who has the time to just gather data for three years? Funding opportunities for research tend to be designed in a much more short-term manner. This is particularly difficult for young scientists and junior faculty who need to publish quickly.