Funny Meetings Might Be More Productive Meetings

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Businessmen laughing in meeting
Photo: Per Winbladh/Corbis

Meetings get a bad rap, and understandably so given that they are often long, dreadfully boring affairs. But if you’ve spent a lot of time in an office, you can probably think of one or two meetings that were actually kind of fun — meetings that included both a lot of joking around but also the rapid-fire exchange of good ideas. A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology helps explain why these sorts of meetings occur and suggests that funny meetings might be more productive ones.

Alex Fradera sums it up in the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, writing that “Using videos taken as part of an improvement process run across two German companies, the study was able to determine the flow of interactions within real team meetings.” Here’s what they found, via Fradera and his very British spelling:

Moments after the laughter died down from a joke, teams were more likely to engage in productive, open behaviours, such as proposing new ideas, asking questions, or offering praise or encouraging participation by others. This fits with the broaden-and-build model of positive states, where a good mood opens us up to other people and different ideas — all useful in a collaborative context.

These behaviours appear to contribute to longer-term performance, according to ratings given by team supervisors post-meeting and two years on. The higher the number of “humour plus laughter” incidents (but not humour or laughter alone), the better these ratings tended to be. The repeated importance of humour in tandem with laughter suggest that it’s not purely elevated mood or a quality of wannabe jokers, but a more dynamic give and take between team members that makes the difference.

For these dynamics to take hold, you obviously need a team of people who genuinely like one another: You can’t, in the absence of real chemistry, say, “Hey, we should try to joke and laugh more at our next meeting!” But still, this study is a useful rebuttal to the idea that meetings always have to be so, well, meeting-like.