Are you constantly settling petty disputes between your staff, or walking on egg shells lest another argument erupt? If you are looking for a way to reduce conflict within the office, you might try cancelling that weekly staff meeting.
A few years ago, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that not only does an excess of meetings waste company money but fewer meetings would actually boost employee and organizational productivity. Meetings expert Steven Rogelberg and his colleagues found that the cost to business inefficient meetings included: the direct costs of salaries and benefits associated with participants’ time; the time lost that could be used for more productive activities; employee stress and fatigue; and job dissatisfaction and less organizational commitment. “The costs of bad meetings are extensive,” Rogelberg told SHRM in 2013. “Given the amount of time and money that organizations spend on meetings and their impact on employees, improving their effectiveness should be an important, critical goal.”
Don’t call a meeting just to keep everyone “in the loop” says British therapist and coach Beth Burgess. “Inviting the whole office to meetings can waste everyone’s time and cause resentment, as workers sit there thinking about the massive pile of work you are keeping them from. Consider whether all meetings are necessary, or if it would be wiser to have an email update or 1:1s with key individuals. Establish short, effective paths for feedback that don’t involve wasting everyone’s precious time.”
Meetings cause stress. Unnecessary meetings cause unnecessary stress. So what’s any of this got to do with workplace conflict?
The nexus between meetings and conflict
As stress levels among workers increase, absenteeism rises and productivity suffers. Workers dealing with the effects of stress are more likely to come in to conflict, since their ability to objectively deal with emotionally charged situations diminishes. Interpersonal conflict within an organization increases stress levels for almost everyone who comes in contact with it, whether or not they are directly involved, and so the cycle continues.
According to researchers this cyclical nature of conflict and stress not only affects the mind, it also affects the body and can even lead to increased rates of injury and illness. It is widely accepted that prolonged or chronic stress can lead to illnesses such as heart disease and ulcers. Research published by EHS Today (formerly known as Occupational Hazards) shows that the combination of conflict and long-term stress can also put the body at risk of injury. With injured workers taking time off to recover, or returning to work on modified duties, the rest of the work force comes under pressure to pick up the slack, leading to yet more stress, continuing to feed the conflict cycle.
Before scheduling another team meeting, consider if it is really necessary, or can you manage your team just as well by catching up with them individually and sending out email updates?
If a meeting is absolutely essential, here are some tips from the Harvard Business Review on how to run a meeting.
Keep the meeting as small as possible
Though research does not point to a precise number, “there is evidence to suggest that keeping the meeting small is beneficial,” says Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino. How small? Aim for 7, with a maximum of 20.
Keep the meeting as short as possible
Research shows that there are advantages to keeping it shorter. Attendees stay more focused, and adapt their work style and decision making style in response to deadlines and time constraints. “Once people realize you’re tight on time, they stop asking questions or talking and focus on getting the work done,” says personal effectiveness consul Paul Axtell.
Stay on your feet
This is not just an urban myth; empirical data proves stand-up meetings work. In this 1999 study (conducted before stand-up meetings became trendy), University of Missouri researchers concluded that they were about 34% shorter than sit-down meetings, yet produced the same solutions. Plus, standing burns more calories than sitting, so that’s an added bonus.
Set an agenda and stick to it
Axtell and Gino agree that telling people the purpose of the meeting and setting an agenda ahead of time is critical. “You should explain what’s going to happen so participants come knowing what they’re going to do,” says Axtell. “Having a plan gives us the opportunity to clarify our intentions and think through the forces that could make it difficult for us to accomplish our goals,” says Gino.
Workplace meetings, when not held sparing and run well, lead to increased workplace stress, a by-product of which is workplace conflict. Reducing the number of meetings you hold, and following the above tips, will help keep you staff happier, healthier and less prone ton conflict, which means you won’t need to constantly mediation between your team members, and can get n with what you do best.