Meaningful Meeting Data: Paying Attention to the Social Context of Meetings

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 2 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Simone Kauffeld, TU Braunschweig (Industrial/Organizational and Social Psychology)

Meetings are a prominent activity in organizations and are used for a variety of purposes such as sharing information and decision-making (e.g., Scott, Allen, Rogelberg, & Kello, 2015; Van Vree, 2011). However, team meetings often take a negative turn (e.g., Rogelberg, Leach, Warr, & Burnfield, 2006). In order to reach a better understanding of what constitutes a successful meeting, a growing amount of research has focused on the fine-grained processes that determine more or less functional interaction during meetings (e.g., Kauffeld & Lehmann-Willenbrock, 2012). In particular, more and more research has focused on the observable behavioral conduct of meeting participants and used behavioral coding and subsequent sequential contingency analysis techniques such as lag sequential analysis to detect recurring patterns of team interactions during meetings (see Kauffeld & Meyers, 2009 for complaining and solution patterns or see Lehmann-Willenbrock & Allen, 2014 for humor patterns during meetings).
These studies provided important insights into emergent behavioral patterns during organizational meetings and showcased what actually happens during specific meetings. However, it is fairly unclear how these findings can be generalized across different types of meetings, different industries, and even different cultures. Moreover — and even though such studies shed light on the behavioral contingencies during meetings — the “bigger picture” might be missed.
Scholars frequently argue that meetings offer an important gateway to dynamic social processes in organizations. Nevertheless, meetings are often studied as isolated events. We argue that future meeting research should take stronger efforts to connect the dots between specific meetings processes and the larger social context that meetings are embedded in. During their meeting interactions, meeting participants do not only exchange information and work towards specific task goals but they also build common ground, manage relationships, and engage in sensemaking (Scott et al., 2015). All of this is influenced by prior experiences, individual characteristic, group norms, leadership influence, and the organizational culture as a whole (just to name a few). Thus, everything that is said or done during a meeting has ties to what has happened before (within and outside the meeting) and will likely influence future team and organizational functioning.
In this paper, we want to highlight the potentials and possibilities for gathering meaningful and multimethod data that do not neglect the surrounding social context of meetings. Through the lens of an organizational psychologist, we discuss which types of data can be collected before, during, and after organizational meetings (e.g., video data, social network data, survey data, sensor data, etc.), and we discuss how these different types of data relate to each other. For example, each approach yields data that has a different level of granularity ranging from very fine-grained (such as studying moment-to-moment dynamics of verbal conduct) to more coarse-grained (such as overall meeting satisfaction). Another basis to differentiate types of data would be in terms of their objectivity such as comparing sensor data and participant responses on a questionnaire.
These different possibilities in data gathering also produce new challenges. First, gathering meeting data of real groups in their natural context is difficult to obtain, especially if meeting researcher aim for multimethod and multisource data. Second, even if rich data was collected, a number of questions remain or new questions may arise: How can the data be analyzed? How can the data be synchronized? Which type of research questions can be answered? What kind of analytical techniques and methods should be applied?
Presumably, we will not be able to answer all of these questions in our ten page paper. Instead, our aim is to provide a fresh perspective on the manifold possibilities to gather rich meeting data and to provide a list of questions that can guide a meaningful discussion. Finally, we will provide an initial outlook and future research questions concerning the social context of organizational meetings (we will be happy to discuss and build on these ideas during the symposium).

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