You Can Have Better Online Meetings

Virtual Working | Meetings

“Meetings are a microcosm of the culture of an organization.” David Straus made that assertion in his seminal 1975 book, How to Make Meetings Work.* That’s because people spend between 10% and 80% of their time in meetings, depending on their role and level of authority. Bad meetings point to problematic cultural norms too, like playing it safe, waiting for others to take responsibility, and blaming leaders or colleagues for poor performance.

Today, 71% of senior managers think that most meetings they attend are unproductive. That includes their own meetings!

What does it say about a team’s culture when the leader says “Sorry, I didn’t have time to create an agenda for this meeting.” Does making a statement like that make it okay to waste people’s time? 

I’m going to use a practical problem-solving tool called SIT (situation, impact, task) to explain a few powerful actions a meeting leader can take to improve their in-person and online meetings. In turn, those improvements in meetings will have a positive impact on team and organizational culture.


Situation: Too many wasteful meetings

‘Too many meetings’ is consistently identified as the #1 source of wasted time and frustration at work. In the US, we hold 55 million meetings a day. That’s a lot of waste!

34% of American workers consider unnecessary meetings to be the biggest cost to their companies.

The 2019 Report on Meetings estimated the cost of unnecessary and unproductive meetings at $399 billion in 2019. Wow!


Impact: Resentful and discouraged team members

Participants are rightfully angry when a leader comes to their own meetings without a clear purpose, defined roles, or specific and measurable desired outcomes. Those meetings are a breeding ground for resentment. “If I wasn’t in this meeting, I could have focused on real work!”


Task: Change the way we plan and start up meetings

Meetings are a microcosm of the culture. Change the meeting and you’ll improve the culture. Instead of creating resentment as a feature of the culture, you can seed trust, inclusion, and respect.   

Practical Action #1
A fascinating podcast I recently listened to asserted that the greatest desire of all participants for their meetings is specific and meaningful purpose. The purpose of a meeting answers the question: Why meet? A strong purpose statement sounds and looks something like this: The purpose of our meeting today is to identify current opportunities for capturing market share so we can realize our mission and achieve our goals as a team. That’s a purpose with fire in its belly!

Practical Action #2
The second thing we want to know as participants is what we're trying to achieve or what we want to walk out of the meeting with. Those are called desired outcomes. Desired outcomes can be products or information. Here’s an easy way to write a good desired outcome statement: By the end of this session, we’ll have:

  • A shared understanding of the barriers to increasing market share so that we can avoid or tear down those barriers (information and reason for getting information)
  • An agreement on a list of ways to increase market share (product)

Practical Action #3
The third biggest desire expressed by meeting participants is clarity on their level of involvement in decision making. The meeting leader states at the beginning of the meeting, or of a specific topic, whether or not there’s a decision to be made, e.g., 2-3 ways we’ll go about increasing market share. The leader then states the decision-making method, for example: I’d like us to make this decision by consensus. If we can’t reach consensus by the end of the meeting, the fallback will be to me, or I’m going to gather input from you today and make a decision by the end of the week.

The awareness and skills underlying these three practical actions can be acquired by almost any meeting leader. These actions will have an immediate impact on the meeting productivity as well as having a positive impact on the morale and culture of the team.

Interaction Associates has been helping people develop their meeting management skills for over 50 years. We call the approach The Interaction Method™ and it is effective in online meetings, conference calls, and in-person meetings.  

If you build these conscious competencies, and keep in mind the top three desires of meeting participants, you can transform the way you meet and collaborate, increase your team’s productivity, and build a more inclusive organizational culture.

*David Straus founded Interaction Associates in 1975. Since then, over 1 million people have learned The Interaction Method™, a facilitated approach for working better together.


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About Michael J. Reidy

Michael has more than 25 years of experience in consulting and responding to the learning needs of adults in the technology, biotech, power, health care and financial services industries. Michael's interest is in adult education, and his belief is that the workplace has become the 'third place' of learning and development for the 21st century. Michael holds a master's degree in Public Administration from the HKS, Harvard University, and is a Board member and owner of Interaction Associates. Among his publications are "Principle and Profit-Corporate Responsibility in Ireland" and "Active Listening in a Virtual World."