Meetings have been a fixture of organizational life for as long as…well, as long as there have been organizations. But the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief why meetings can be so frustrating, unproductive, and stress-producing.

So, what can we do about it?


Why many meetings — virtual and face-to-face — are so dysfunctional


The shift to remote work during the pandemic has dramatically increased the number of meetings. Here’s just one indicator. The minutes spent in Microsoft Teams meetings per day spiked in less than three weeks, from 560 million on March 6, 2020 to 2.7 billion on March 31!

Mary Helen Petersen, in her Culture Study blog, bemoans this proliferation of virtual meetings (see link below).

The more stressed we get, the more meetings we have — which in turn makes us more stressed, because the meetings don’t usually accomplish the thing that would decrease our stress level, which is completing a task, or having clear and cogent feedback about your completion of that task. Instead, we default to status meetings, update meetings, meetings about future meetings, all of which suck the time out of the day without actually doing much.

Do you share this feeling? The fact is that a large proportion of meetings were dysfunctional long before the advent of Covid-19. Over many years as a facilitator for a wide range of organizations and as the instructor of our program’s meeting management course, I’ve witnessed what’s often lacking: Preparation, agenda, purpose, engagement, time management, next steps. The list goes on. And these sources of dysfunction apply as much to face-to-face meetings as they do to virtual ones.


Do something about it!


The fact is, we can do so much better with very little effort and a great deal more intentionality.

Our alumna Stacy Raine recently posted some great advice for ensuring productive virtual meetings on her blog (see link below):

You’ve probably heard by now about Zoom fatigue. But outside of how grueling it is to be on video for hours on end, it also stinks to be wasting time in pointless meetings, especially when you are on video. It’s far easier to become distracted in a disjointed, boring meeting.

Every team or project meeting should have a leader, a point and an agenda. If everyone needs background knowledge to participate in a discussion, send out pre-reading (and build reading the pre-reading into the culture by setting expectations every time). In some cases, notes should be taken and shared afterwards. Decisions should be recorded.

Large meetings need to be even more well-thought out. Make sure there’s a great facilitator and a clear agenda. Use breakout rooms to build in conversation and networking. Ask for questions from participants in advance. Plant questions if needed with a few strategic colleagues.

And please: If you are presenting, do not read your presentation slides (or read at all, for that matter). It’s super boring and even worse when you are watching on video.

It’s important that virtual teams guard against meeting fatigue. If everyone begins to expect meetings to be a waste of time, it will hamper the ability to work together well. Plan meetings well and people will have an easier time paying attention and will feel like their time is valued.

Stacy has great insights on managing remote teams as well.

In summary, Zoom fatigue does not have to be a chronic, debilitating condition! You and your team can take some very simple steps to improve the meeting experience. Check out our reading list.

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Faculty


From the reading list:


Rob Lennon, 5 Types of Meeting Worth Having (& How to Get Them Right) 

Mary Helen Petersen, Too Many Meetings

Stacy Raine, Simple Tips for Building Successful Virtual Teams

Michael Wilkinson interview — Wilkinson is the author of The Secrets to Masterful Meetings