A few simple steps to improve the effectiveness of your meetings
In psychology, the term ‘bystander apathy’ states that in an emergency situation the likelihood of receiving help is inversely proportional to the number of people nearby. When I first heard the term, something didn’t quite seem right, surely with more people around you are more likely to receive help, right?
Wrong. When faced with an emergency situation, a series of questions flash through your head; is this really an emergency? Is it my responsibility to help out? How can I help? When facing this alone you are likely to see the situation as more severe than if you are surrounded by others. Part of the reason behind this is pluralistic ignorance, a form of social proof, which is where a group of people go along with an idea, despite individually not agreeing with it. This occurs because in a situation of uncertainty each person within a group looks around in search of what others are doing prior to acting. Upon seeing that nobody has reacted, it is assumed that this is the correct thing to do, despite the fact that each individual thought they should have done something. The problem is that everyone is doing the same thing so often nothing gets done. Another contributor is something called dilution of responsibility, whereby the more people present, the less individual responsibility each person has and therefore action is less likely to occur. So much for safety in numbers…
This line of study was sparked in 1964 when the murder of Catherine Genovese in the City of New York was witnessed by 38 people over the course of 30 minutes, with not one of them intervening or alerting the police. At the time it was merely a possible explanation, however Bibb Latane and John M. Darley studied the phenomenon by conducting a number of experiments in 1969. One of these experiments placed students in a room alone under the impression they were part of a group discussion on stress via telecom; consisting of 2, 3 and 6 people. At a point during the conversation, one of the participants staged a seizure, explaining over the phone that they were in need of urgent help. Interestingly, 85% of the people who thought they were having a one-on-one conversation reported the incident, compared to only 31% of those who thought they were in a group of 6.
Upon reading into these kinds of behaviours it made me think about how this can apply to the workplace, specifically meetings. From experience, one of the most common reasons for meetings underachieving is the lack of responsibility and accountability surrounding actions. Could some of the traits seen in poor meetings be related to this phenomenon and how can they be overcome? Take a look at the infographic above for guidance.
Written by Ashley Darley, Coriolis Ltd