NSEETINGS ABSORB Consistently consumes more time and morale than any other corporate activity. Before pandemic managers spend an average of 23 hours a week on meetings. Since then, the barriers to attracting people have disappeared. Now that calendars are shared on a regular basis, empty diary slots attract invitations like picnics and bees.
There are many ideas on how to make your meetings better. Get people up and prevent them from settling down over long distances. Write notes about the topic at hand that everyone first quietly reads together. Throw balls at each other to clarify who has the floor and prevent the loudmouth from dominating. Desperately, above all, set aside time first for “fun”.
Still, there is a form of meeting that will definitely bring good decisions and order general respect, and even respect. The meeting is a jury. The system that people still believe in, more than 800 years later, is worth a closer look. In its broad principle, there are five lessons, if not detailed, for conference throwers and conference participants.
First of all, its purpose is clear. “Why are we here?” This is a question that humans address not only in soul depth, but also during most zoom calls. The jury does not doubt the point of its existence, the nature of its task, or the need for multiple people to be involved. That level of shared understanding should be aimed at in other settings.
Second, its size is correct. The 12-person formula dates back to the reign of England and Henry II in the 12th century. A temporary court, known as the Circuit Court, summoned this number of men to hear the land dispute. I’ve been almost stuck since then. There is a good reason. More people add voice, but it’s not worth it. Fewer people means less diversity of opinion. The benefits of keeping the number of meetings tight are not lost to Jeff Bezos, who operated the two-pizza rule on Amazon to limit the number of people attending meetings. Wanjury rules work as well.
The third lesson is about the agenda. The jury has one very important question to consider and the number of choices is limited. Clarity keeps people focused. It is unlikely that the jury would offer a little backup to brainstorm what the criminal justice system should look like. Also, many experts advise shortening meetings, but time is not a constraint. The jury will not resign until a decision is made. “Pin in” is not an option.
The fourth lesson is about membership. The jury is less likely to think groupthink than the average meeting attendee. Candidates are deliberately drawn from a large pool and weeded by anyone who has already decided. Companies cannot convene many strangers to make decisions. However, they can consciously bring in unfamiliar faces and try to bring in different perspectives. And just as the jury chief isn’t chosen by rank, the moderator doesn’t necessarily have to be the oldest person in the room.
The final lesson is about psychological safety and people’s willingness to speak. It can be difficult when your boss is frowning at you. But the structure is useful. The trial is clearly designed to weigh a lot of evidence and incorporate the opposite view. Before the jury makes a decision, they will weigh competing explanations for what happened. The best companies reflect this approach by structuring the discussion to properly test it. Investment decisions at private equity giant Blackstone will be scrutinized at a conference that systematically focuses on the risk factors surrounding potential transactions and what makes them attractive.
The jury can do things wrong. Judge selection can adjust the results rather than improve them. A domineering personality can shake a sneaky person. Also, people can really be stupid. The murder was convicted in a British court in 1994 because it was discovered that some members used the Ouija board to ask one of the deceased an obvious question. (The defendant was re-convicted in the second trial.)
Obviously, businesses are not the same as courts. Many companies’ pow wows are designed to communicate and build culture, rather than making verdicts. Unanimity is not the way to run a company. And determining the fate of fellow citizens must be more attractive than the average business call. However, serving as a jury is not a break in work. When summoned, you can fulfill your obligations and know what makes a really good meeting.
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This article was published in the printed Business section under the heading “How to Run a Better Meeting.”
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