Finally, meaningful meetings!

Guest contribution by | 12.06.2023

Do you also have the impression that almost nobody likes meetings?

In 2018, the scheduling platform Doodle investigated the annual damage caused by meetings: over 60 billion US dollars per year – in Germany alone.¹

A bad meeting culture demotivates employees and scratches the reputation of leaders – sometimes even unnoticed relationship disturbances arise in the social fabric that hinder cooperation and the flow of information.

If you look at the participants, you can see the quality of the meeting in their eyes: Everything is fine if everyone is looking intently at the person speaking, the subject of the presentation or the illustrative material. But usually the facial expressions of those present speak a different language:

  • the pleading look to the sky above the ceiling of the meeting room, which carries the question of when it will finally end or when the actual topic will come back into focus;
  • the dreaming look into infinity that reveals that it is more likely to be a shopping list, relationship issues, weekend planning or other experiences that are being processed here;
  • the inquiring look at the table or the clothes of the person opposite, which suggests that more insight is to be expected there than in the contribution currently resounding in the room.

Everyone seems to know it, many perhaps only sense it: things could be better!

Meeting tips and crispbreads

It’s no wonder that tips-and-tricks posts on social networks or do-it-yourself-like clickbait are lined up on the web promising solutions. The content of these recipes is often comparable to that of crispbread:

  • Set goals and objectives,
  • set a clear agenda,
  • invite only the right people.

That would be a start. But these recommendations do not help to influence the factors that are cited as bad ingredients for meetings: Participating people who

  • talk on the phone or write messages in meetings,
  • interrupting others,
  • not listening to others,
  • talking for a long time about nothing (new),
  • coming in late or leaving too early.

So it has to go deeper. At the same time, this means a change in behaviour – for all those involved in the meeting and especially for those in charge.

The concept of Magic✯Meetings

What are meetings actually for? Depending on who you ask, there may be a different order, but in principle it’s about:

  • Exchange of information,
  • decision-making,
  • solving tasks and problems,
  • improving teamwork and collaboration, and
  • feedback and evaluation.

If all participants agreed on rules of the game and a meaningful structure, it could be quite simple, couldn’t it?

Now this is where the concept of Magic✯Meetings comes in, with the promise of making the elements of such a structure

  • easier to decide and decide together, in a sustainable way;
  • to find solutions even to complex problems;
  • to strengthen a sense of “we” and team spirit and to promote cooperation;
  • to promote motivation and commitment.

For this promise to become reality, two aspects are needed:

  • The basic ingredient of group intelligence and
  • the accelerator decision-making ability.

Basic ingredient group intelligence

I call group intelligence the effective force in meetings, teams and companies to which I ascribe the greatest potential. In contrast to swarm intelligence, it is not about individuals of the same kind, but about the heterogeneous, diverse composition of a group of people involved.

In this alone there is enormous potential for different, more advanced approaches to solutions. Many quotations remind us that we always arrive at the same point when we describe the same paths, apply the same methods, make the same decisions. So in each case it is a question of changing something. Often it is almost indifferent what. Often it is enough to invite a few people other than the usual suspects to meetings in order to activate group intelligence.

The art now is to achieve results in group-intelligence-heterogeneous meetings without fronts forming, relationship disturbances and resulting conflicts – that, on the contrary, a we, a togetherness and a common motivation for implementation emerges.

Accelerator decision-making ability

Often people hardly realise that it is about decision-making ability, the decision-making process, when they want to increase effectiveness in meetings:

We ourselves as a person make decisions all the time. The former LMU professor of medical psychology, Ernst Poeppel, speaks of 20,000 decisions per day – most of them, fortunately, unconscious.²

In meetings, decisions are made all the time, albeit mostly unconsciously: regularly, when it comes to the order of an agenda. Or in the course of the meeting, topics and levels are changed, for example when it comes to the topic itself, the sequence of events (change of topic) or even the relationship level (conflicts or disruptions).

A good meeting requires a lot of decisions to be made already in the planning stage. Making these decisions alone is not always in vogue in terms of leadership style, but it can make the difference between success and the quality of the results.

Blueprint for more magic in meetings

So how do you get “more” out of your meetings?

The following focuses on the nucleus in Magic✯Meetings when it comes to the subject level: the path to the decision.

I’m leaving out the preparation, objection and conflict handling or support for the team feeling and motivation. Nevertheless, you may get an impression of how many decisions there are to be made in planning meetings and gatherings alone.

The setting

  • What is the desired outcome – a decision, a recommendation for a decision, an opinion without binding consequences?
  • What are the parameters – what may be thought, discussed, done and what not?
  • Who is affected by the decisions to be made, who is involved in the topic, in the problem?
  • Who of these persons (groups) should be involved, invited?
  • What is it about – which issue exactly?
  • Which marginal issues are included?
  • Which sub-areas should not be dealt with, left out?
  • What results, what decisions are expected?

The problem

Once the parameters have been formulated and the work is to begin, it must be clarified:

  • Is the problem, the topic, the task understood by all participants?
  • Are there any questions that need to be clarified beforehand?

The collection of ideas

Once the problem is clear, the next step is collecting ideas. In this phase, creativity is called for and it is therefore essential that every idea, every suggestion is

  • is taken on board and
  • without discussion and/or evaluation.


To get really creative answers to a question, it is important to think off the beaten track. Therefore, the following rules apply first of all:

  • every idea is welcome,
  • even crazy, ineffectual, contradictory ideas,
  • that is, mass instead of class.

It is essential not to evaluate and discuss during the creative phase. This kills the creative process, like driving over young cereal seedlings with a tracked vehicle.

The recommended response pattern as a template:

  • What I heard: …
  • I have another idea about this: …


Every idea is good for something – if only to give someone else another, even better idea.

The opinion poll

This is where the existing group intelligence separates the wheat from the chaff. As an evaluation and decision-making process, I like to use a fairly up-to-date, conflict-dampening method known by the abbreviation SK-Principle³. The special thing about it is:

  • Scoring is done with points that indicate the level of objection/resistance to the respective option. This means: 0 points means “it’s OK for me”, the maximum number of points means “I have maximum reservations, objections, resistance”.
  • Each person scores each idea individually as if it were the only answer to the question and problem.


This procedure measures group acceptance in a roundabout way. The absence of objections is acceptance – not to be confused with enthusiasm, which would be another measure.

The result is a mood picture, as seen here:

How do we get more active members in our association?

Table 1: Opinion of 24 people on 26 ideas and suggestions from an association meeting

The exchange

Only now is it a question of exchanging views, discussing, hearing arguments – and again this is done in a stringent form directed towards the decision.

In the vast majority of cases, it is sufficient to hear only the very high objection values for the ideas and proposals that have also achieved high group acceptance – for example, in the top ranks of Table 1.

The respective persons give reasons for their high objections. A discussion can be omitted. Two aspects are important:

  1. Does this additional information result in a broader, changed or better proposal?
  2. Do the other persons’ evaluation values change as a result of the justification of the objection points?

Now a second opinion may emerge. Even if not, this voting mode by definition does not provide for a veto right or a blocking minority. But these are also decisions that could be taken jointly.

In the vast majority of situations, it really is enough to hear the objections, exchange views and discover that there are also other opinions or knowledge in the specific case.

Usually a second opinion emerges. In the situation above, for example, the group decided to start with the option on rank 2 because there were fewer objections there.

The decision

It is important to recognise that in complex situations, the opinion picture does not immediately and automatically correspond to the decision and resolution. It is an intermediate step and a tool to orientate oneself in the large amount of creative approaches. The opinion poll helps to recognise what is worth discussing.

In the minutes, a further section follows under the opinion poll, in which the wording of the resolution is once again precisely formulated. This formulation of the resolution can be confirmed again in explosive situations – when it would depend on the agreement of all. For example, with the objection question: Are there any serious, justifiable objections to this resolution?

In environments where the majority procedure is prescribed, the wording of the resolution would be legally adopted with this procedure – usually unanimously.


Group intelligence is for me a crucial ingredient to find answers to questions that no one had asked before, to solve the challenges we face in crisis situations.

The challenge is to reach viable decisions in such diverse and heterogeneous situations quickly, without loss or conflict. Results and decisions reached in this way have the chance of a solid basis of togetherness, team spirit, a sense of “we” and, in the best case, are borne by intrinsic motivation.

Let me conclude with a small example from my practice:

  • At a global market leader in mechanical engineering, a group of engineers from different departments was supposed to collect ideas for a project group;
  • Exactly half of the group came from the division that makes a lot of turnover with combustion engines;
  • The other half were mostly new hires and their e-drives research centre had just been inaugurated by the country’s prime minister;
  • Time was pressing, the meeting was set to last three hours.

When the opinion sheet was emblazoned on the screen, there was incredulous amazement and oppressive silence, which one participant finally interrupted with the comment: “Now we have a result after one and a half hours and we haven’t even argued yet.”

Sounds like a Magic✯Meeting, doesn’t it?


Notes (partly in German):

[1] Meeting Status Report 2019.
[2] WirtschaftsWoche: Ernst Poeppel in an interview: “The civil servants in the head”
[3] Systemic Condensation

Tom Müller offers subscribers to his newsletter a free, German-language e-book on the concept of Magic✯Meetings. Certainly a good idea if you too have the feeling that meetings could run better.

If you like the article or want to discuss it, feel free to share it with your network.

Tom Mueller

Tom Mueller

Tom Mueller has been assisting small and medium-sized enterprises and leaders of large corporations for more than 30 years. As an expert in group intelligence, he enriches teams and their meeting and decision-making culture with his long-tested Magic✯Meetings concept.

His skills in facilitation, coaching, communication training and personal development are in demand – especially for quick decisions, secure problem solving, innovation and growth impulses, strategy and product development, corporate succession and in the development of teams and leaders.