Welcome to Silent Meetings!

Excerpts from the book: The Chief Always Speaks Last. See Chapter 2 of the book.

When you hear the word “meeting,” you immediately think “talking.” However, at times it is more effective to say nothing! In this post, “keeping quiet” means expressing ideas in writing and not staring at once another in silence. Researchers Steven G. Rogelberg & Liana Kreamer have shown that silent meetings are more effective for problem solving and creativity. Thus, this does not apply to the frequent information, sharing and coordination meetings.

Finding solutions sometimes requires you to diverge, to step off the beaten path. Writing can offer a more secure space for expressing this divergence. When speaking, you have to wait your turn to talk. It therefore slows down the expression of ideas. With writing, In a discussion forum or on a document, everyone can express themselves at the same time. Shy people are no longer put at a disadvantage compared with extroverts. The opportunity to speak is better distributed.

For problem solving, we talk about the good old Post-it wall (juxtaposing ideas), starting the meeting by reading a document that can be annotated online, such as a Google doc, or the digital sprint technique (hybridizing ideas) which is described in Chapter 4 of the book The Digital Manager. The digital sprint is done in a simple discussion forum like Slack, but in synchronous mode and with instructions that, for instance, require participants to read and evaluate the ideas of others before publishing one’s own.

For creativity, we recommend the brainwriting technique, equivalent to brainstorming in writing. Each participant has a sheet of paper and, after jotting down his/her creative ideas, each person passes the paper to his/her neighbor; this is repeated several times around the table. Before writing down a new creative idea, the person should read the ideas written on the sheet by the other participants. There is also the creativity sprint derived from the digital sprint.

The mistake would be to go from one extreme to the other: from the completely oral to the completely written. Your goal is to combine the written and the oral. Start with writing to quickly generate and structure ideas. Then, allow people to explain and argue their ideas orally (facts, analyses, emotions). Controversies and conflicts are more easily managed orally.

This is nothing new. “Silent meetings” were launched by Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, and are very popular in the United States, particularly in Silicon Valley. During these meetings, participants must silently read and make notes on a memo several pages long for thirty minutes, before finally being able to speak.

If these meetings are not popular in Latin Europe, it may be because they are counter-cultural. Verbal expression is important in Latin culture. Secondly, the possibility of having equal opportunity to speak will come as a major shock to the Taylorian paradigm of the chief who thinks and the employees who execute. Lastly, individualism and egocentrism will in the end bury this method, as it shifts us from an ego-system to an eco-system: everyone is equal in the expression of ideas.

That being said, telework is becoming increasingly popular. Everyone has been able to see the limitations of meetings that are strictly oral. Perhaps we will rediscover that speech is silver and silence is golden.

What do you think? Please do not keep quiet! Perhaps we will rediscover that speech is silver and silence is golden…

If you would like to learn more, the two researchers published an article in the Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2019/06/the-case-for-more-silence-in-meetings

Message for those of you who know Strategic or Operational Codev as well as the digital sprint: we now have a scientific demonstration of the virtues of writing and, for Codev, silent reading of the 12-question survey as a starting point.

Here is a 2-minute video that summarizes the article:

Excerpts from the book: The Chief Always Speaks Last. See Chapter 2 of the book.

>>> Version française de ce billet

Author: Olivier Zara


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