How To Lead Your Team To Peak Performance with Dr. Steven Rogelberg

Steven Rogelberg the surprising science of meetings

Dr. Steven G. Rogelberg joined us a few weeks ago to discuss his new book, The Surprising Science of Meetings: How to Lead Your Team to Peak Performance, which was named the #1 leadership book to watch for in 2019 by The Washington Post. He is the professor of organizational psychology and management at UNC Charlotte.

In this exclusive webinar for LEADx subscribers, Rogelberg taught how to implement meeting strategies that drive results, guide participants to generate ideas and increase the productivity and effectiveness of your meetings. 

Steven Rogelberg: “I'm going to give you a taste of this book and it's going to start with sharing some background on meetings and meeting science and this sets the stage for a discussion of some implications for organizations and some implications for you as a leader.

Because one thing we all have in common is that we do lead meetings at times.

So let's jump into some science. Amazingly, there are around 55 million meetings every day and that's just in the United States. You look at professionals’ calendars and you see on average around 15 meetings a week, but as you move up the hierarchy, the number of meetings just gets larger and larger and larger. We've found people in our research with upwards of 40, 45 hours of meetings so they're basically living in meetings.

Now, we have tons of these things and at the same time, it's clear that there's a tremendous amount of frustration. In fact, a study by found that too many meetings was considered the number one time waster. So when you think about this juxtaposition, tons of meetings, tons of frustrations, well you could say that we are living and dying in meetings. But I don't see it that way. I see this as a tremendous opportunity. When you have something that people are doing a lot but are very frustrated about, it’s a sweet spot that we can really make a position effect. And that's what my book is really all about.

It's about trying to take the science I've been doing for the last 15-20 years and the science that others have done and create an evidence-based collection of thoughts that can hopefully and meaningfully move the dial on fixing and addressing the meeting problem.

Research can provide some insights. For example, there’s research on:

  • Standing up meetings vs. sitting down meetings. Interestingly, the same quality results from both types of meeting formats. However, standing up meetings take half as much time.
  • Meeting satisfaction. Because lo and behold, there is someone consistently satisfied with their meetings. And that's the individual leading the meeting.
  • Lateness to meetings. Lateness causes great deals of frustration and it actually affects how the meetings occur. People in meetings that start late tend to interrupt each other more, tend to have more side conversations.
  • Ending meetings late. Even more frustrating for individuals than starting late, is ending late.
  • Silence. Silence in meetings can actually be leverage for all kinds of positive things. If you ask people to brainstorm ideas in silence, just writing ideas on paper as opposed to vocalizing, silent brainstorming wields many more ideas and those ideas have been identified as being more creative and higher quality.

I did some early research looking at the effects of having lots of meetings on employees. And I had employees keep a diary over an extended period of time and at the end of each day, they indicated how many meetings they had and how they felt about that work day. And to no surprise, the more meetings they had in a work day, the more fatigue they had at the end of the day. And not only fatigue but they also felt like they had yet more work to do. Well, that’s kind of interesting, right? You're hoping that meetings are accomplishing work, but we actually don't see that.

However, higher quality meetings help to mitigate the negative effects of having too many meetings, so that's a real encouraging sign.

I also did a study examining the relationship between meeting satisfaction and job satisfaction. And this was involving over a thousand employees across a variety of different industries. And what we found was that one of the most robust predictors of an individual's job satisfaction was their experiences in meetings. And this was even after statistically controlling for their feelings towards their supervisor, towards their peers, there's just something unique about meetings.

In a different study, we examined the relationship between leaders' behaviors in meetings and employee engagement. We know employee engagement is critical to organizations. And engagement is related to performance, turnover, helping of others, team work, all kinds of positive outcomes. And we examined employees, who evaluated their leaders and then reported their engagement at a different time. And what we found is that meetings can actually improve employee engagement. When supervisors were judicious in their calling of meetings, making sure that they were truly relevant to the attendees, when leaders carefully managed the time in meetings, starting on time, ending on time, and when leaders created an environment where there was true freedom of speech, there was higher employee engagement.

When you put this all together and you have to come up with two words to summarize this set of findings, well those two words are “meetings matter.” They truly, truly matter.

Meetings done wrong have all kinds of negative effects, from wasted money, wasted time, disengagement and even meeting recovery syndrome, which is when we have a bad meeting, we don't necessarily shed it right away. It sticks on us. But meetings done right are major opportunities for inclusion, innovation, engagement and return on investment.

Who's responsible for meeting improvement? Well, each of us. We all can find some meetings that we run. So each of us has our own responsibility to make meetings better, but also the organization, through the systems it has. So while my book discusses a number of organizational systems, let me share one with you.

The most successful organizations measure and track how things are going with meetings. They use their engagement surveys or poll surveys to monitor, is their meeting investment paying off? Meetings have real costs when you think about time and the salaries of those various people attending.

Let’s spend some time talking about what each of us can do to make our meetings better. What I'd like to do is share with you my quick five. These are five strategies that are based in evidence that can have a tremendously positive effect.

  1. The steward mindset. When a leader truly embraces the idea that they are a steward of other's time, they will fundamentally make different decisions throughout the meeting. They will think carefully about the process, they will think carefully about who to invite. They won't just dial it in. So having a steward of other's time mindset is critical to making good choices.
  2. Make meetings as small and reasonable as possible. Because as meeting size increases, dysfunction increases with it. In fact, something called social loafing increases as well. And this is the idea that as the size expands, people start to hide in the background and don't bring their full selves forward. So we want to try to keep size down as much as possible so we can consider inviting people for part of the meeting but not holding them captive for all. So, if it's the case that Jane and Sacha and Gordon are only relevant for one piece of it, well, you can use a timed agenda to let them attend for that piece and then they can excuse themselves and move on to their other activities.

We can also consider having core members or secondary members. Interestingly, while people are incredibly frustrated by meetings, one of the things that concerns them is not being invited to a meeting. Right? When you're not invited, you get worried that maybe you're not important. So the task then for a leader is to identify individuals who aren't necessarily necessary for the meeting but still would like to feel connected to it in some way. Well, if you go to those individuals, explain to them what the meeting is about, and this can be done via email, and you provide them with an opportunity to maybe make some comments about some of the agenda items and you assure them that you will bring those points up, and then you also agree to share with them the minutes at the end and inform them that they can change their mind at any point and attend future meetings, well, people are much more willing to opt out. As a result, the meeting could be much leaner, but you're not creating feelings of exclusion.

  1. Go for the shortest time reasonable given the goals. Don't just default to one hour because that's the default setting on Outlook and Google Calendar. Remember Parkinson's law. And this is the notion that work expands whatever time is allotted to it. So if a meeting is scheduled for an hour, lo and behold it takes an hour. But we don't have to make it an hour. We can make it much shorter. And interestingly, we know from psychological research that humans seem to do very well or perform optimally with some level of pressure. Not too much pressure. So once you think through the time needed for the task at hand, consider dialing it back 5 to 10 minutes to create a greater sense of urgency.
  2. Be unconventional at times. Don't just do the same things all the time in the meetings you run. Try dyadic work. Get people in pairs talking about a topic, brainstorming ideas and then have those pairs come forward. Leverage some of the polling and clicking software that's available now where people can vote on various options on a screen, they can brainstorm via the phones and basically it allows for anonymous forwarding of ideas and voting on various options to truly know whether you have consensus.

Sometimes it's even interesting to assign seats. People tend to sit in the exact same places time in and time out. Well, that affects how conversation flows. So we can move people around. We can even play with one of the greatest predictors of meeting satisfaction, which is food. Occasionally, we could have food at meetings. I don't mean all the time, but occasionally. It's not because people are hungry, but food does communicate that you care and it serves to help create separation from what was being done previously to now being in the meeting, which leads to the final piece of advice.

  1. Start a meeting well. Recognize that when you have a meeting, you're basically interrupting someone from their previous task. So as a result, when you take on the role of a host and you welcome people when they arrive and you're positive and you help make introductions to others, you know, really internalizing this role of host and steward, well it allows the meeting to start in a much more positive way.

So that's my quick five. Now unfortunately, we have limited time today and there's so many, I think, interesting and fun topics to talk about: other organizational practices, virtual meetings, new ideas for agendas and how to facilitate and how to close meetings, alternative meeting structures like huddles, multitask and creativity evaluation, but we're not going to be able to get into it now but my website,, has information about these topics and my book, which definitely gets into them pretty deeply.

So, meetings matter. Making positive changes can have tremendous effects on individuals, on teams and the organization.

And what's so exciting is making meetings even 20% better, given how many of these meetings you have, well, the incremental gains across time and across people will be tremendous. And while we can't control everyone's meetings, we can control our meetings. And we could be the example and the light for others.

I hope you enjoyed this taste of The Surprising Science. Again, I encourage you to visit my website and I am tremendously grateful to you for joining me and, once again, tremendously grateful for the Washington Post, for naming my book the number one leadership book to watch for 2019. I hope you enjoyed it. Reach out any point with any questions that you may have. Thank you.”