Elon Musk tells his employees to walk out of meetings as soon as it is obvious they aren't adding value. (While that sounds great in theory, here's why it's more like career suicide in practice.) That would also mean very few people would actually attend meetings, since the only people who love meetings are the people who schedule them.

Almost everyone else in the meeting is bored. And multitasking. And waiting to find a way to "contribute" so they can pretend they're engaged.

And also, research shows, getting dumber.

Yep: "Results suggest that individuals express diminished cognitive capacity in small groups, an effect that is exacerbated by perceived lower status within the group and correlated with specific neurobehavioral responses."

Or in non researcher-speak, when people were placed in small groups and asked to solve problems, on average their individual IQs dropped by 15 percent. 

As one of the authors of the study says, "You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well."

Why the drop in IQ and problem-solving ability? According to the researchers, social feedback makes a "significant" impact. 

  • If you feel like a "junior" member of a group, your IQ drops. (As in most situations, confidence matters a lot.)
  • If you feel your contributions won't be valued, your IQ drops.
  • If other people criticize (overtly or implicitly) your contributions, your IQ drops. 

Clearly the third point makes sense: While a few people rise to the challenge, criticism makes most of us shut down. Feel anxious or stressed and your adrenal glands secrete cortisol, one of the chemical triggers of the instinctive fight-or-flight reflex. High levels of cortisol heighten your emotions, limit your creativity, and reduce your ability to process complex information. 

Yet the first two points -- how people felt about their perceived status before the "meeting" even started -- made a major impact. 

Researchers ranked each person's performance on cognitive tasks against their peers and then shared those rankings with each person. When individuals felt "inferior," their ability to solve problems dropped dramatically. 

Which means that unless you walk into the room thinking you're the smartest person in the room... your IQ will probably drop as soon as you enter that room.

And that means most meetings are even more of a waste of time than you already thought they were.  

Any meeting that won't directly generate revenue or cost savings -- either in the form of a key decision or a concrete plan of action -- is a waste of money.

And of your team's intelligence.

Published on: May 29, 2018
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