Re-framing Meetings

By Brian Turner (Flickr: My Trusty Gavel) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Brian Turner (Flickr: My Trusty Gavel) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Have you ever been disappointed with your colleagues (or yourself) for frequently checking a phone, laptop, or tablet during meetings?

Do you often leave a department or committee meeting with the feeling that the time of all the participants could have been better spent?

If so, we recommend reading this article from the April 21, 2014 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education:  Regrouping the Group Meeting

The article describes a working group at MIT that re-framed their meetings as “opportunities.” While this may initially read as an empty re-branding, the message behind the change is straightforward. If you are presenting something at a meeting, it should because you need to solicit information and action from the group. If you are asking a question or making a comment, it should be because it may lead to evoking group discussion and making connections to other projects and issues, not addressing specific concerns that could be handled better via a one-on-one conversation or email. In essence, the activity taking place at a meeting should be about leveraging the experience and talent present, not unidirectional reportage.

Putting this concept into practice concept requires some intentionally-applied structure, and some firm rules about when electronic devices can be used:

“I bring a toy gavel to each meeting, and a sheriff’s hat and badge for good measure. We realized that our meetings needed to be more firmly managed. Now we set time limits and enforce them. Questions are sometimes cut off if they take us too far afield. People are called on randomly to ask questions or make comments. Everyone is engaged every minute of the meeting. The presenter gets 10 minutes, and the discussion time is 30 minutes. There are no cellphones or laptops open anymore, although we have built into our new format a five-minute pause between the usual two presenters, specifically to satisfy people’s e-addictions. That way everyone needs to go only one hour without a text or tweet, as opposed to two.”

While these concepts are framed around department or project meetings, many of the same techniques could be successfully applied to the classroom. Do you use similar procedures and rules in your meetings or classes? Reply in the comments to let us know!

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