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Innovation Design Engineering (MA/MSc)

Stephen Devlin

Many people complain about meetings being too long and inefficient, yet they are still the best way we have to make collective and often important decisions. I want to make meetings better and improve workplace culture.

Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who talks too much? When one person dominates a meeting others lose interest, and their good ideas can go unheard. Research has shown that groups perform better when participation is more equal and when there are more frequent, shorter, turns. Some meeting organisers can sense these dynamics naturally, but most people find it difficult to do this while listening to what's being said.

The Meetpie system keeps track of group dynamics so you don't have to. It helps meeting organisers ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute. It also enables organisations to benchmark meeting behaviour against other similar workplaces, allowing them to improve equity and inclusion.  

Show Location: Kensington campus: Darwin Building, Lower ground floor

Picture of Stephen Devlin

For most of my career, I have worked in product and technology innovation for international companies. My roles included Chief Technology Officer at EMI Music where I was responsible for rebuilding all the global systems for managing music from the studio to the consumer, and at Macmillan Publishing where I had global responsibility for digital publishing, education software and technology tools for science researchers. I have also founded and worked in diverse startups from consumer product testing to the development of nano-textured biosensors.

I joined IDE because I have a passion for designing and building things, and I wanted more freedom to use my creativity, analytical skills and experience to improve the world in the areas I care about - education, fairness and the environment.

For my final solo project I have focused on something that consumes a huge amount of time but is surprisingly unexplored - meetings.

How it works, media item 1

The Meetpie device sits on a table in a meeting room. Press the button on the top to start it. You don’t need to tell it how many people are in the room, or how long the meeting is expected to last. As the meeting progresses it builds up a picture of the dynamics in the meeting. How much are people talking? How often does the speaker change? When interruptions happen, are they successful or not?  

Tools for meeting facilitators, media item 1
Tools for meeting facilitators, media item 2
Tools for meeting facilitators, media item 3
Tools for meeting facilitators, media item 4

For meetings with a chairperson, the device is usually configured to send the meeting data via bluetooth to a dedicated smartphone app.  The chair can view the data in real time. The share of voice is indicated as a radar plot. Turns are shown as individual bars that grow in height with time. The app allows the chair to set alerts that notify them when certain thresholds are exceeded. For example if a contributor is dominating the meeting, or is talking for too long.

The alert thresholds can be customised for different meeting types, and the chair person can set different rules for their own contributions. During initial testing, many meeting facilitators were keen to constrain their own contributions, especially in one to one meetings such as interviews and annual appraisals.

Tools for self managing teams, media item 1

Sometimes teams of peers meet without a formal chair person. These types of meeting are often poorly moderated because it’s no one’s job and the absence of hierarchy makes intervention awkward. In this scenario the device can be set to show the relative talk time of each participant using a led ring. This can be configured to be always on, or to only light up when a threshold is exceeded. 

Improving workplace culture, media item 1

Organisations trying to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces often simply set targets for employee numbers. The experience of being in a minority group within an organisation is more difficult to measure. By capturing behavioural metrics such as share of voice and interruptions, the Meetpie system could provide an insight into workplace practice and culture while preserving privacy and anonymity.  These data could be compared between minority and non-minority groups within the organisation, and also compared between organisations in similar sectors and regions.

The system has already been tested in real world settings and the feedback from users has been extremely positive. Meeting facilitators believe that it would help them keep group dynamics balanced and value the ability to moderate their own contributions to avoid dominating their own teams. Managers and coaches see particular value in one to one meetings where their own share of voice should remain low.  

I am still exploring how best to develop and enhance this system, and welcome anyone who is interested to get in touch through email or LinkedIn.