How talking kills your web meetings

“Hello? Hello? Is someone there? I can hear you! Can you hear me? No? Yes? Are you speaking?”

This is how most web or phone meetings usually start. There is probably no worse setting than a web conference to explore different solutions to a challenge. Why?

  • Some participants cannot enter the conference for technical reasons.
  • Most of the participants lean back and do other things instead of focusing on the meeting.
  • Some participants speak all the time, while others are reluctant to speak.
  • The results of the meeting are often very poor since only a few participants can actively contribute.
Web meetings become ineffective if people talk too much instead of focusing on idea generation.

There are certain experts out there, who always emphasize the need for communication during teamwork. While in some situations a lively conversation may be beneficial, talking is the main killer of web meetings, especially when they take place online through web conferences.

These experts (“I’ve facilitated millions of workshops; I know what I’m doing.”) are sometimes more interested in selling their facilitation services than achieving results. However, research in the 1980s has already shown that oral brainstorming is very ineffective (e.g. Diehl and Strobe [1]).

The major reason for this was identified as a type of process loss called production blocking. Production blocking occurs when several participants want to talk and contribute at the same time but cannot do so because someone else is speaking. Researchers have demonstrated that this process loss accounts for a very high percentage of the performance variance in brainstorming meetings. In effect, participants block each other out when expressing their ideas through voice.

Furthermore, other side effects of voice communication such as dominance, pressure, and fear of criticism are responsible for a significant decrease in team performance during brainstorming and idea-generation meetings.

We at perceptos collected a vast number of journal and conferences articles about those effects. In addition, we conducted our own similar studies during our research at the Technical University of Munich, which confirm the previous findings.

To summarize:

  • Excessive talking kills the performance of your web meetings. Avoid communication overhead (unnecessary chatter). Only speak when necessary, such as when you need explanations.
  • Use methods other than voice to brainstorm. Paper or dedicated brainstorming tools both outperform, by far, the popular group discussion method for idea generation.
  • If neither pen nor brainstorming tools are available (which is unlikely), let people work alone first and then collect and sort the ideas at the end of the meeting. Even that is better than talking, according to research. [2]

Try these suggestions out with your team at your next meeting and save yourself the cost of external facilitators!

References

[1] Diehl, Michael & Stroebe, Wolfgang. (1987). Productivity Loss In Brainstorming Groups: Toward the Solution of a Riddle. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 53. 497-509. 

[2] Gallupe, R. Brent et al. (1991) Unblocking brainstorms. The Journal of applied psychology 76 1. 137-42 .