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Structure Improves Meeting Productivity


Adding more structure to meetings is a way to make them more productive, new research shows.

Employees improve their performance when they business meetings are conducted in a structured environment where everyone reflects on his or her role and how it relates to the overall performance of the team, the study indicates.

The researchers believe communication is essential in this reflexivity phase so that each team member develops greater situational awareness, which is the perception of their environment and what it may mean now and in the future, and better transactive memory, which is the ability to recall which team members have expertise in various roles.

As part of the study at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, 40 virtual teams of four members each played a simulated fire rescue video game designed for experimental and training purposes called Network Operations Fire. The teams were divided in two, with one half conducting more reflexive meetings during the game and the other half not.

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The researchers found that the 20 teams engaging in reflexive phases after the first game improved their subsequent performance by a significant margin, compared to the 20 control teams that did not reflect on their performance.

After playing the video game for the first time, teams in the reflexive group spent 10 minutes reflecting and discussing specific guided questions on their strategy and how they'd change it for future rounds. Those groups then played the game a second time, improving their scores by nearly 10 percentage points.

"Each team member had a task, like one would operate the fire engine and one would run the helicopter,” said Kristin Weger, one of the study's authors and a UA Huntsville graduate student. "Giving them guidance in what to talk about influences their ability to communicate together and perform together."

She said the reflexive team members increased their awareness of their own roles, the knowledge base of their peers and how everything fit together to make a unit.

The researchers had the other half of the teams play the same game, but instead of the guided reflexivity discussion, they discussed how to be more successful at their careers, an unrelated subject. Weger said they found that instead of improving after their discussion like the reflexive group did, these teams actually fared worse.

Weger said employers can learn a lot from their research.

"If you call them together to discuss their performance in a guided environment, it will improve," Weger said of bosses who like to call meetings. "You have to put more training into communication."

The research was co-authored by psychology professor Sandra Carpenter.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.