Here’s one way to fix boring meetings


(Federal Reserve photo)

Stand-up desks are all the rage in many workplaces. Maybe the next trend should be stand-up meetings.

A new study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that when people stand during meetings, they appeared more excited by their work, acted less territorial about their ideas, and interacted better as a team. 

The research, recently published online by the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, asked more than 200 undergraduates to develop and record videos in small teams. Some of the groups worked in a room with chairs set up around a table, while others worked in the same room but with the chairs removed. The students were surveyed about how protective their team members were about sharing ideas and a group of graduate assistants graded their performance.

The students also wore wearable sensors on their wrists to measure the moisture released by sweat glands, a way to track how much the students became excited by their work. In the paper, the researchers state that such "arousal" in groups "promotes affiliation and collective sensemaking, both of which are essential for motivating collective action." Put more simply: It helps when doing work as a team.

The researchers — Washington University business school professors Andrew Knight and Markus Baer — found that the students in the rooms without chairs fared better than the ones who had seats around a table. While there wasn't a significant difference in the quality of the work they produced, the standing students reported less territorial behavior in their groups. They were more excited by their work, according to the sensors, and they were rated by research assistants as more attentive to one another and better at building off each others' ideas.

Such results won't come as a surprise to anyone who has ever sat in a meeting where colleagues seemed more interested in their smartphones hidden beneath the desk than the people around them. Nor will it come as a shock to the growing number of workplaces adopting stand-up meetings as a practice.

Companies ranging from office furniture maker Steelcase to tech giants Microsoft and Facebook reportedly have employees stand during meetings, whether to make the gatherings more effective or more efficient. The practice is particularly popular among those who practice the "Agile" approach to software development, and one software CEO has written that standing up cut his meeting times by 25 percent.

Yet even stand-up meetings aren't good enough for some people, who think the best way to hold a tête à tête is step by step. Walking meetings, which were popularized by Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and are now even the subject of a TED Talk, have also caught on with executives. Seems likely that Knight's and Baer's sensors would find advantages to that approach, too.

Read also:

The best (and worst) times to do things at work

Nine things you didn't know about the office cubicle

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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