Welcome to Silent Meetings!

If I say to you “meeting,” you immediately think “talking.” However, at times it is more effective to say nothing! In fact, it is about exchanging ideas in writing and not looking each other in the eyes in silence. Researchers Steven G. Rogelberg & Liana Kreamer have shown that silent meetings are more effective for problem solving and creativity. Thus, it does not apply to the frequent coordination meetings (assignment and follow-up of tasks, information about the life of the team or the organization) or meetings for sharing good practices (lessons learned).

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.

So, for problem solving, we talk about the good old Post-it wall, reading a document at the start of the meeting that can be annotated online (like a Google doc) or the digital sprint technique (full description in Chapter 4 of the book The Digital Manager). The digital sprint is done in a simple discussion forum like slack, but with instructions that require, for example, to read and evaluate the ideas of others before publishing one’s own.

For creativity, I recommend the brainwriting technique. Each person has a sheet of paper and, after jotting down his/her ideas, passes the paper to his/her neighbor for a given time. You can also use the creativity sprint derived from the digital sprint.

I think the mistake would be to go from one extreme to the other. The goal is to combine the written and the oral. Start with writing to quickly generate ideas. Then, allow people to explain and argue their ideas orally (facts, analyses, emotions). Controversies and conflicts are more easily managed orally. This way, you will have the best of both worlds: silence and noise!

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 read and make notes on a memo several pages long, in silence 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 with 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 very popular at this time. Everyone has been able to see the limitations of meetings that are strictly oral.

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:

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