Life

Hate futile work meetings? Think of them as therapy, says new research

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published
Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation

Work meetings aren’t about getting things done, according to groundbreaking claims by a Swedish academic. Instead, they’re just a chance to connect and vent your feelings.

The next time you catch yourself inwardly bashing your head against the table during yet another pointless office pow wow, take heart.

According to researchers from Malmö University in Sweden, we’ve been misunderstanding the purpose of work meetings all along; prompting undue levels of frustration.

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Professor Patrik Hall, who has just co-authored a book on the topic, says we often get annoyed by meetings because we expect them to bring about progress or the achievement of certain goals.

Instead, he and his colleagues believe that the most valuable role of a meeting lies in the way it fosters connection and identity between participants.

“Some people find this frustrating,” notes Hall, in an interview with Malmö University’s news site. “[They think] ‘Why are we sitting here?’ 

“Departmental meetings is an example of a meeting that many feel is pointless,” he continues. “Here, the meeting is intended to remind employees that they belong to an organisation.”

Office meetings: a chance to vent and connect

In other words, it’s not unusual for work meetings to feel painfully slow-moving or turgid, because they’re not really about getting things done.

Instead, says Hall, they can be “an opportunity to complain and be acknowledged by colleagues”, which is “a kind of therapy”. They can also help to establish a sense of groundedness in organisations that, increasingly, lack defined hierarchies. “People like to talk and it helps them find a role,” he observes.

Even with no concrete progress and few decisions made, then, a meeting may still serve a purpose. And for this reason, Hall believes they are “maligned somewhat unnecessarily”.

Colleagues eating pizza
Would you try the pizza rule?

Whether or not work meetings deserve their bad rap, entrepreneurs and companies have long grappled with how to make them more effective. 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos uses the pizza rule to keep his meetings short and snappy: namely, never have a meeting where two full-size pizzas couldn’t feed the entire group. If you stray over this margin, the logic goes, you have too many people present: ideas and spontaneity become stifled. 

Meanwhile, entrepreneur Marissa Meyer used “micro” sessions of just 10 minutes a time to chomp through an average of 70 meetings a week during her spell at the helm of Yahoo!

Still others prefer tactics such as stand-up sessions to keep everyone on their toes (literally and figuratively) and ensure things moves at a good pace. 

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Research shows that we waste on average a year of our lives in useless meetings. Moreover, even when we think that we’re sharing ideas in a way that’s fresh and vibrant, we actually tend to mimic our brainstorming partners; meaning any chance of creativity rapidly vanishes.

Against such odds, maybe it’s a good thing to revert to the therapy model. At least that way, we get to relax and go with the (somewhat pointless) flow.

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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