Work meetings can be a controversial subject.
Some people think that meetings are essential.
Some people see meetings as a big waste of time.
But then again, everyone can agree that communication is important. And of course, we can all agree that it’s possible to spend too much time in meetings.
What does the research show? Researchers recently analyzed the data from 150 studies (including nearly 10,000 teams). Perhaps their results can begin to settle the debate.
Are work meetings really worth it?
If you are looking for a simple yes-or-no answer, then the answer is “yes.”
There is a significant correlation between meetings and team performance. In general, the more teams communicate, the better they perform.
This can explain about 10% of the variation in team performance.
What about different types of meeting?
There’s some controversy about alternatives to classic face-to-face meetings.
It might be more convenient for teams to “telecommute” some of the time, or perhaps even all the time. Employees might even see it as a “job perk.”
But does it also come at a cost?
The researchers found no significant differences between teams that always meet face-to-face, and “hybrid” teams that interact virtually, and only sometimes meet in person.
However, there was significantly less benefit for teams that are entirely virtual (and never meet in person). Meetings benefit team performance much more when they are at least sometimes in-person.
Do meetings become less necessary over time?
Maybe meetings are more useful when teams are first getting familiar.
Fortunately we can find out. This analysis included everything from teams that were just formed, to teams that had been working together for years.
What the researchers found is that the longer a team had been working together, the more their meetings influenced the team’s performance.
Meetings actually become more important over time.
(This effect is probably due to the fact that coworkers often become friends over time, and working with friends tends to increase performance.)
Are the meeting skeptics really wrong?
Not exactly. It depends on how you break down the data.
- Meeting frequency—how often teams actually meet—explains less than 2% of the variation in team performance. It’s a significant correlation, but it’s also a very small one.
- Communication quality—such as the amount of useful information shared between team members—explains about 18% of the variation in team performance.
What happens in a meeting is much more important than how often you meet.
It’s about 10 times more important.
Note: That the researchers were able to find so much variation in communication quality and team performance also suggests that quite a few work meetings are pretty much just a waste of time. Not always, but often enough.