I don't have a problem with meetings. Teamwork and collaboration are critical to success, and research has determined that the collective intelligence of a group is greater than the intelligence of any member of the group. But I do have a problem with the way people handle meetings.
I've attended meetings all over the world, and in my experience they are largely the same whether I am in Singapore or Sioux Falls. At an assigned hour, people drop their work, gather in a conference room, and exchange pleasantries. Except for the chairperson, every face in the room shows the same expression: "Why am I here, and what am I expected to contribute?" An agenda is passed out, a scribe is selected, and the most important person in the room outlines the challenge at hand.
Many people are in attendance simply because they always have been. Division meetings are generally composed of all the individuals at or above a certain level. Company meetings are usually made up of representatives from each division–say, finance, product development, marketing, human resources, and sales. But where is it written that ideal groups are determined by job title?
The real key to assembling a high performance team is brain science. In my work, we cultivate a "meeting of the minds" and, as a result, we see teams experience higher creativity and greater productivity. Using a concept we developed, called the Whole Emergenetics Team (WEteam™ for short), you can quickly put together a successful team by selecting the team members according to their thinking and behavioral attributes, not their job title, formal role, or even recognized skills and competencies. A team built with all seven of the brain attributes for effective management will outperform a team in which one or more is missing. Meetings can become a time to walk a challenge through all the attributes, guaranteeing that you will generate new ideas, and workable solutions.
An ideal meeting would bring together people with different behavioral tendencies. These include: 'expressiveness' to help communicate with employees and customers, 'assertiveness' to determine how quickly to move on a solution, and 'flexibility' to decide on how many issues to tackle at once. Include people from both ends of each spectrum–both calm and gregarious, relaxed and driving, single-minded and open-minded.
Similarly, find participants with different thinking preferences. Tap into 'analytical' brains to help define problems and evaluate solutions, using facts and figures, and clear thinking. Bring in those with a 'structural' preference to be methodical and sensible; they'll help the group determine the scope of a challenge, organize the different components of a solution, and make sure it is viable. 'Social' team members can be excellent at facilitating meetings and helping keep a group working harmoniously; they'll weigh all ideas equally, and remember to consider the human impact of any proposal. 'Conceptual' thinkers will enjoy brainstorming, generating ideas, and playing with challenges; they'll focus on the outcome, and not worry about details needed to get there.
A multimodal thinker with three or even four of these characteristics will hold the team accountable, recognize the contributions of all the other team members and, if necessary, act as a translator between different brains.
Be sure to call out why each person is present. What aspect of her or his brain is being put into play? Participants should know what innate behavior or strength they are adding to the team. This way they also will more easily recognize and honor the attributes and contributions of the other team members.
If finding a full representation of attributes means inviting new people, do it. Do not choose those who are just going to agree with the most powerful person in the room. Choose people who are passionate about the issue to be discussed, and find some people who are new to the topic.
Collective intelligence is a wonderful thing. Meetings can be wonderful, too.