Trend Alert: Silent Meetings

CATEGORY / education TAGS / productivity, trend alert Fractals LAB / Forma DATE / August 1, 2019

Trend Definition

Meetings starting with a half hour of silence when staff digest written information, in an effort to avoid wasted time and promote inclusion.

Trend History 

Silent meetings are the new trend taking over the tech world. Started by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos back in 2012, the practice has now been adopted by other big firms such as payment company Square, Twitter or LinkedIn, and it’s spreading thanks to platforms like Medium.

Each company approaches silent meetings in its own unique way, but there’s a common trait among all of them: before anyone start speaking, staff is required to read pre-prepared written material and eventually type their comments without saying a word.

Experts say this tactic leads to better meeting preparation, more mature ideas and more succinct discussions, avoiding repetitions and bluster.

Most importantly, the interaction through reading and writing gives everyone the chance to be heard – including minorities, women, remote employees and introverts: all categories that are often unempowered or unintentionally talked over in traditional meetings.

Trend Evidences

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is considered the father  of the silent meeting trend. When he gathers his senior executive team, he provides each participant with a multi-page memo and asks them to read it in silence and take notes in the margins for about 30 minutes before everyone start speaking. By doing so, he assures that every single person in the room has the same level of knowledge and understanding about the topic which is about to be discussed. In an annual Amazon shareholder letter, Bezos called that quiet time “study hall”.

Silent meetings are also hold at the payments company Square, where Alyssa Henry, product manager and VP of seller-facing products, asks his staff to silently review a Google Doc and use the commenting future to ask and answer questions. This process takes around 30 minutes and it helps the team identify key points that need to be discussed in person for a short, focused conversation. As reported by Square software engineer Pierre-Yves Ricau in a Medium blog post   Henry states: 

 “Lots of research says that minorities, women, remote employees, and introverts are talked over in meetings and/or have trouble getting their voice heard in traditional meeting culture. It sucks not only for the people that are disempowered by the traditional approach, but it sucks for those that unintentionally talk over/shut down conversation, and sucks for leaders that want to hear the best ideas but can’t because folks are being shut down — usually unintentionally.” 

In her opinion, silent meetings provide a concrete solution to this problem, since anyone can sign into the doc form and participate in real time, even if he is working from another city or country.

Square founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is a huge fan of the practice, and he publicly supported it on Twitter: “this works”, he wrote.  So, of course, he introduced the system into its other company: Twitter itself. David Gasca, who works there as a product manager, recently wrote the Silent Meeting Manifesto, which you can read here. 

LinkedIn executives are also adopting the trend for some meetings, reserving the first 5 or 10 minutes to pre-read materials that will be discussed.

Two silent meeting advocates from the nonprofit Post Growth Institute wrote about their version of the system, calling it an “incredibly productive, flexible and democratic means of virtual collaboration.” Instead of paper or Google docs, they used “Silent Skype”, which consists in logging into Skype accounts but only using the chat function. By typing instead of speaking, participants have more time to reflect on what they want to say, and they have the ability to concentrate on what’s being shared without the distraction of someone speaking and the constant need to actively listen. 

In his new book  “The Surprising Science of Meetings,” Steven G. Rogelberg, professor of management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and consultant for companies including IBM and Procter & Gamble, says that some of the best ideas usually come out at no-talking meetings. In fact, while talking, some people are too embarrassed to share their ideas, while others speak so much that everyone else forget what they wanted to say.

According to Rogelberg (and also according to Research!) having people writing down their ideas in silent brainstorming sessions leads to much better results.  
Schermata 2019-07-31 alle 20.44.00
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