Despite widespread frustration with meetings in organizations, they receive very little attention from academics. The purpose of this paper is to shed conceptual light on meetings and hence render them amenable to research and development.
From interviews with managers and employees, six common assumptions about meetings were extracted, termed a folk theory of meetings, which most office workers seem to carry in the back of their minds.
This folk theory holds meetings to be places for excessive talk, whether by a domineering leader or highly vocal participants, the purpose of which is to walk through the items on the agenda and dispose of each. This bleak and conservative concept of a meeting impedes intellectual as well as practical progress.
An alternative theory of meetings is proposed, one based on the group facilitation approach to social order in meetings. On this view, a facilitator can change meetings by controlling their form and process, providing direction, stimulating engagement and ensuring that the meeting creates value for its external stakeholders and meaning for its participants. If adopted in management training, this view of meetings – and the widely available facilitation tools that go with it – may render meetings at work the subject of conscious organizational development.
The proposed “folk theory of meetings” is novel, as is the contrast provided with the facilitation approach to meetings. Together, they constitute a reconceptualization that can be used to move meetings out of the organizational doldrums.
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