The Workplace Meeting: General Process or Multiple Identity?

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 1 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

John Kello, Davidson College (Psychology)

The rapidly growing area of meetings research often acknowledges that meetings may serve a wide range of purposes, and that “no two meetings are alike”. Yet the research commonly focuses on a meeting-relevant topic (e.g., leader-behavior, temporal issues, surface acting among participants) with the implicit assumption that it is meaningful to talk about “meetings in general”, as a single, unified type of event.
In reality, a week in the life of a typical employee in a typical organization might yield a range of very different experiences which do indeed have important common denominators (a group of attendees, a designated leader, the expectation (at least the hope) that meaningful action will follow the meeting, to name a few), but which differ substantially in other ways. For example, a regular weekly staff or department meeting in an office brings the same group (typically, salaried employees) together over and over, week after week, an hour or so at a time, to update, forecast, etc. A shift-change huddle meeting in a factory brings mostly the same group of people (typically, hourly employees) together every workday only for a few minutes as one crew is coming on and the other is going off, to identify operational issues, scheduling issues, crewing issues, safety concerns, equipment out of service, etc., and generally to share information in order to coordinate work from shift to shift. A project team meeting typically brings together a functionally diverse group of people (who may or may not work together and may or may not even know each other) for a set period of time (often weeks or months), meeting perhaps weekly for several hours at a time, to focus on achieving the set project goal, and then the team typically disbands. A monthly safety meeting may bring all hands together for an hour or so to review safety-performance data and to identify salient safety-related issues impacting all employees at the worksite. Some of the distinctive meeting structures associated with the venerable Total Quality Management movement, such as the Quality Circle, or the Process Improvement Team, are still visible in one form or another in more than a few workplaces.
Do the differences among the many distinctive types of meetings argue for a more nuanced approach to “the meeting” in meetings research? Is it useful to identify sub-types, or categories of meetings, to better target our research and practice? Is there value in creating a taxonomy of meetings? Both for our research and our practice, I would argue that the answer is “yes”, and offer at least a start to such a taxonomy.
There is interest in the meetings-research community in distinguishing “the meeting” from similar but different interactions (e.g., a training session, an impromptu conversation, group/bystander behavior in an emergency situation). I am suggesting that we also explore categorical differences among different types of meetings.

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