They say if you want to keep moving forward, you should never let yourself get too comfortable.

It's good advice, and it applies in all kinds of contexts. But it's also good counsel to take literally--especially if you find yourself spending much time in endless meetings at work. 

Apparently, it's also a trick that Richard Branson has been using for years. 

Huntley Ritter, an executive who worked for Branson from 2011 to 2016, told Business Insider recently that Branson would hold entire large meetings in which he insisted everyone had to stand the entire time.

"He wasn't a big fan of meetings. He did not like meetings; he did not like conference rooms. His thing was that if he was going to be stuck in a conference-type meeting, he wanted everyone to stand," Ritter said.

"What are we trying to achieve?"

Now, this trick might seem familiar to some people working in tech circles.

At my last company, the CTO and other developers would literally hold a stand up meeting each morning, just to make sure everyone knew what everyone else was working on, and that everyone had the resources they needed.

And I certainly remember from being in the military, especially in training, that when we had lengthy classes and meetings--and some people had a hard time staying awake--we were encouraged to stand behind our chairs to avoid nodding off.

But in corporate meetings, the point is to keep things moving along before they get to that point. 

"It's genius," Ritter continued. "If you're standing, you're not going to chitchat for too long, and you're not going to have long, drawn-out conversations. He always just seemed to be more focused on, 'What are we trying to achieve? What's the result?'"

Everybody stand up

There's only one catch: Everybody has to stand.

A British study last year on standing meetings found some things that wouldn't surprise: They tend to be shorter and more efficient, for example. 

But the researchers also tried to calculate the costs in efficiency of the "social minefield" that results when individual people in a meeting decide to go all Dead Poets Society on their own, and stand up when everyone else is sitting down. They said:

[P]eople we interviewed felt self-conscious while standing and worried that other attendees would see them as "attention seekers" because they were breaking an unwritten rule by not sitting.

Some were concerned that standing when the meeting host was sitting would be seen as a challenge to the host's authority. Others worried that their standing would be interpreted as a lack of commitment to the meeting, as if they were getting ready to leave.

A study for everything

These concerns were most pronounced in serious or formal meetings. One person, for example, felt that it was inappropriate to stand when discussing job losses, for fear of being perceived to be belittling the seriousness of the meeting topic.

Truly, there's a study for everything, right? 

Bottom line, standing meetings are usually shorter, more efficient, and make people focus on getting in, getting done what needs to be done, and getting out.

Just be like Richard Branson and make sure that if one person stands, everybody else has to, too.

Published on: Aug 15, 2019
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