The Cambridge Handbook of Meeting Science

by | Apr 11, 2017 | Collaboration, Digital workplace, Reviews

Your first reaction on seeing the title of this post was that you had no idea that there was such a discipline as meeting science. You would therefore be very surprised to find that this book runs to 790 pages, with 31 chapters written by 60 authors. The science of meetings dates back only to the late 1980s though the first handbook on meeting management was written by General Henry Robert in 1876. It often seems that our working days are spent preparing for meetings, then attending them and finally coping with the consequences of a meeting that did not go to plan – probably because there was no plan. Never confuse an agenda with a plan! Sebastian Thrum writes about vertical and horizontal meetings, and even that simple distinction is a very useful one.

When we go to a conference we expect to be asked for our opinion about the papers, the presenters and the logistics but this very rarely happens at meetings. Is it because we have given up on expecting meetings to be useful? This Handbook sets out the meeting process in a series of sections entitled Premeeting Activities and Context, The Meeting Itself, Tools and Models for Promoting Meeting Success and finally a section on Specialised Meetings such as debriefs, after-action reviews and virtual team meetings. It does not set out to be a practical how-to-do-it-better book because what comes out of the research is that you cannot build a simple set of rules for effective meetings. There are so many variables that are rarely considered in the hundreds of books on how meetings should be managed. However Chapter 30 by John Kello on the Science and Practice of Workplace Meetings sets out how science can inform good practice. he suggests that for every meeting the following eight questions need to be asked

  • Why? Do we really need this meeting
  • Who? If the meeting is justified, who really needs to be there (and who does not)
  • How many? Size matters
  • How? What agenda steps will we follow to achieve the objectives
  • When? What is the best time and time frame for the meeting
  • Where? What is the best location for the meeting and how should the meeting space (or virtual space) be configured
  • How Managed? What is the process by which the meeting will be managed
  • How Concluded? What are the action items, was the meeting constructive and what lessons can be learned

Perhaps in future we will all have AI-based applications that will ask these questions and perhaps help us push back on the invitations that arrive, often somewhat mysteriously, in our desktop calendar  This Handbook, though not something for everyone’s bookshelf, is one that as a manager you should be aware of and should ensure that somewhere in your organisation there is a copy to refer to.

Martin White