December 2022 | 

Resolved: Run Better Meetings in 2023

Resolved: Run Better Meetings in 2023

Taking a cue from one of our most-read articles of the year: whether you’re dealing with a negative team member whose moods weigh everyone down, the challenges of virtual gatherings, or a crisis, Wharton faculty and contributing experts have no shortage of ideas.

Encourage Brain Synchrony

Insights from Wharton’s Neuroscience Initiative can help you improve your meeting leadership. Director Michael Platt shared in this Nano Tool five ways to fine-tune your communications to make sure your message is heard and understood. These lab-tested methods can result in shorter, more productive meetings. They include beginning your meeting with a quick, relevant story to jumpstart collective engagement and synchronized brains — which improves collaboration and teamwork. But because everyone comes with their own experiences, biases, and distractions that can get in the way of a common understanding, prime your listeners’ brains with the frame of reference you want them to use when they hear your message. Before you tell the story, explain what it means or why you’re telling it to get everyone on the same page.

Start Strong

Starting with a “power lead” was the idea behind this Nano Tool, from founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness Michelle Gielan. “Using scientifically supported communication strategies to extend a positive mindset can increase happiness and success at work for others as well as for ourselves, instantly making us more effective leaders,” says Gielan.

She suggests beginning meetings with a “Power Lead,” which takes advantage of the documented effect of positive priming: when the first thing we’re exposed to in a situation (in this case a meeting) is positive, it has a beneficial effect on our mindset and behavior. Sharing accomplishments, drawing attention to available resources, or expressing gratitude sets the tone for the ensuing conversation, and research shows that how we begin a conversation is predictive of how well it turns out.

Meet in a Crisis

But what if the situation doesn’t warrant positivity? Wharton Professor Maurice Schweitzer says leading a meeting in a crisis requires preparation. “Your opening stance must convey that you acknowledge the situation and take it seriously,” says Schweitzer. If your communication is coming after an error, “listen to criticism, agree there is a problem, and assume responsibility. Be transparent and candid.”

Two rhetorical devices can also be used to great effect — if you’re prepared. Begin by speaking about the situation in a way that triggers emotion about the gravity of the situation while also appealing to fundamental principles (something right and true that everyone can agree on). Then, transition and talk about what you are looking for. “Motivate people through principles and emotion, then channel them to do something specific,” says Schweitzer.

Reset a Bad Start

Wharton Deputy Dean and Professor of Management Nancy Rothbard conducted research on the effect of negative emotions in the workplace, noting that the old “leave it at the door” adage simply doesn't work for the majority of people. Just one negative morning experience for one member can bring the whole team down and adversely affect productivity. Instead of allowing that to happen, you can be a catalyst for resetting the mood.

One of Rothbard’s suggestions is to institutionalize a positive transition to your meeting, acknowledging the “bad start” and moving on with intention. Her Nano Tool includes a number of examples from leaders across industries, such as sending mood-boosting emails, exercising shared practices, and providing food. Steps like these can proactively counteract negative moods and avoid the productivity drain.

Improve Virtual Meetings

What if your team meets virtually? COVID-19 revealed a number of best practices, many of which were already being studied. Wharton management professor Martine Haas identified six common roadblocks to virtual meetings in this Nano Tool, which she divides into surface- and deep-level challenges. An example of the former is to “flatten the hierarchy: Make sure every team member has a chance to provide input — and gets heard. It can be harder to do this on a distributed team, but leaders have to instill norms during virtual meetings that reduce the chances that any one person or group dominates the conversation.”

Deep-level challenges can be resolved, says Haas, by working to develop shared identity to avoid us-versus-them thinking and assure that each team member feels she or he is part of the team. That can be accomplished by:

  • making sure everyone understands the team’s goal, and continuously reminding them of their progress and their importance to the organization as a whole
  • having regular meetings and check-ins where everyone is included and heard, and their inputs and achievements are recognized as valuable
  • holding virtual office tours and social activities that can help workers get to know one another better and appreciate the realities of remote working for each member