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Science of Meetings? Yes There Is One

Tanya Gupta's picture

We have all been in meetings where we felt nothing was getting done.  In the corporate world, the cost of inefficient meetings has been recognized. According to a recent CBS news report, professionals lose four work days each month in meetings and that out of 11 million meetings that occur in the U.S. every day, half the meeting time is actually wasted.   There have been a lot of efforts to make meetings more productive including efficient meeting templates, ground rules for meetings (pdf) etc. However, a scientific, data-driven approach to understanding “soft” phenomenon such as a meeting has until now been rare.
  
A paper “Learning about Meetings” (pdf) by Been Kim and Cynthia Rudin at MIT is one of the first such efforts to employ a data-driven approach on the science of meetings (in this case, meetings that are held to arrive at a decision and not to brainstorm) to learn more about how meetings are conducted. Meetings are difficult to assess as there are social signals and interpersonal dynamics that are difficult to capture.  Kim and Rudin, using AMI data show evidence that it is possible to automatically detect when during the meeting a key decision is taking place, that there are common patterns in the way social dialogue acts are interspersed throughout a meeting, that at the time key decisions are made, the amount of time left in the meeting can be predicted from the amount of time that has passed, and, finally, that it is often possible to predict whether a proposal during a meeting will be accepted or rejected based entirely on the language used by the speaker.
 
Some particularly interesting take-aways are: