An alternate concept for combating meeting fatigue

Client feedback confirms that fatigue from working remotely and having endless Teams/Zoom gatherings is a real thing – no real surprise there. Academic research continues to theorize as to what causes fatigue, or even if it’s real – and have even come up with a measurement scale that you can try out for yourself.  But, real or not, for stakeholders and meeting hosts, there is an impact on larger meetings, conferences, or even ad boards: numerous cancellations or reschedules with a “let’s wait and see” view to meetings; surveys that just say “no interest”; a lack of enthusiastic participation; and a fear on the part of hosts to try to force participants to engage.

Maybe a bit at odds, or at least obliquely related to meeting fatigue, Microsoft has found that within knowledge-working based companies, sustained, broad-based remote work has led to surprising outcomes:  stronger relationships in silos, but weaker cross-silo relationships. 

What I find interesting about the Microsoft research as it relates to complex, cross-functional meetings, is that I suspect, by reducing the number or sophistication of those meetings, it’s actually contributing to the further siloization of larger organizations.   Not to mention the further distancing of staff from the core of a company’s mission. 

This, I believe, points back to the need to continue to drive meetings forward for business momentum, and a sharper need to answer the question of meetings and overcoming fatigue. And, knowing the current state of affairs – we have to be extra thoughtful about our attendees.  Maybe you’re gaining buy-in or feedback on a new initiative, or launching a new product, or maybe you’re running an awards ceremony or educating patients or HCPs.  Whatever it is, now more than ever, being sensitive to what helps them feel delighted and motivated is paramount. 

Recently I’ve seen many articles on “how to overcome meeting fatigue” or “create engagement in your next virtual meeting”, or any version of those flavors – and most are not terribly helpful.  They tend to focus on basic meeting hygiene that people should do anyway: 1. Create a clear agenda, 2. Make the meeting shorter 3. Add engagements like polling 4. Turn on the camera.   More recently Stanford had these recommendations – which are more of the same – if in slight opposition to number 4. 

I’d like to posit an entirely different approach to meetings, an approach we’ve developed born out of research on business commitments, the importance of transparency and collaboration in digital spaces, and co-creation as trust development. The idea of creating commitment and engagement through co-development. 

Simply put, commitment in a business setting is when individuals decide and then marshal their personal or organizational resources to complete a given set of work. Whether that is to develop tactics for a strategy, purchase a service or product, or complete a project,  for any of those kinds of things to happen, there must be a business commitment.  In sales, commitment leads to deals, in marketing, commitment leads to loyalty, in organizational planning, commitment leads to productivity.  The question then, is how to get to commitment, and how does that relate to meetings?

Getting to commitment in a digital setting, it turns out, is really quite easy, you only need to co-develop something that is contextually useful, and uses excessive transparency in communication and process.  

What does co-development really mean though?  It’s the kind of work where two or more people work together on a work product – where they both contribute in different and meaningful ways. There may be a digital document at the end of that process – be it a slide deck, article, workspace, or workflow, diagram, design, work plan, or data integration.  Through a combination of active commenting, editing, and sharing, co-development leads to shared commitment. 

As you prepare for your next meeting, add a litmus test of commitment building:  At the conclusion of this meeting, what did we create that a non-attendee can understand without explanation?  


In our next article, we’ll discuss how to extend creating commitment and excessive transparency to the meeting format. Something I’m calling:  “The Atomic Inverted Meeting”

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