Revealed: The Pandemic Shows No Impact on Quality of Meetings

If you’ve ever found yourself mentally disengaged as you strive to simply survive a seemingly interminable string of mind-numbing meetings, you’re not alone. More than 30,000 people have taken the online test “How Do Your Time Management Skills Stack Up?” and one of the questions asks respondents to choose between the following options:

  • I’m frequently stuck in meetings that are not productive or an efficient use of everyone’s time.
  • On average, the meetings I attend are focused, productive, and efficient.

Surprising no one, more than half of people say that they’re frequently stuck in meetings that are not productive or an efficient use of everyone’s time. But before we blame the preponderance of painful meetings on the pandemic, a recent study finds that our participation in meetings is essentially the same as it was before the pandemic.

In the Leadership IQ study, “The State Of Working From Home,” we asked more than 3,700 people how their contributions in meetings compare working from home versus working in the office. Contrary to the accepted wisdom about the pain of virtual meetings, 56% say that the contributions they make in meetings are the same whether they’re working from home or in an office. 

Meanwhile, 23% say the contributions they make in meetings are much, or a little, better working from home. And 21% say the contributions they make in meetings are much, or a little, better working in an office. 

This tells us that getting people to engage and participate in meetings is a major challenge regardless of where they’re working. The good news, however, is that if you’re willing to push your group a bit, you can drastically increase everyone’s engagement.

Three questions, if posed to each person in your meeting while you’re in the midst of discussing or debating a decision, will force both deep thought and participation. Simply pick one of the questions below and, one person at a time, ask each meeting attendee to respond.

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Question #1: What steps must we absolutely take for our plan/decision to be successful?

If you’ve ever seen a team create an overly optimistic plan that has no realistic chance of succeeding, then you understand why we need this question. Not only will this question force everyone to share, but it will gently surface and challenge overly rosy projections and plans.

Question #2: How would you answer someone who asked about the other ideas we considered but didn’t choose?

Few things are more frustrating for team leaders than reaching an agreement during a meeting only to have team members question or disparage that decision immediately afterward. This question reveals underlying tensions or reservations about what the group decided and also subtly conveys that we had better be in agreement once this meeting is over.

Question #3: Which of our customers or stakeholders would be most thrilled about what we just decided?

This is the easiest of the three questions to answer, but it’s no less important. While it can be useful to see how our decisions might disproportionately impact our stakeholders, this question is especially powerful for forcing meeting participants to think more deeply about our decisions. Rare is the decision that will impact every stakeholder equally, so this question challenges people to ponder the real-world impact of the team’s work.

The need for better and more engaging meetings existed before the pandemic, it continues to exist now, and it will undoubtedly exist into the future. But with a bit of effort in the form of a few challenging questions, leaders can get far better participation from everyone in the room or on the call.

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include Hiring For Attitude, Hundred Percenters, HARD Goals, and Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Dramatics and More. Mark’s groundbreaking leadership studies have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and U.S. News & World Report. Mark has also appeared on CNN, NPR, CBS News Sunday Morning, and ABC’s 20/20. He’s trained leaders at the United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Mastercard, and hundreds more.