The Hidden Phenomenon That Makes Your Meetings Unproductive

When is the last time you walked out of a team meeting and thought, “Wow, everyone was engaged, involved, and participating?” From what my clients tell me (or should I say complain to me about), this doesn’t happen very often.

Instead, most people leave their meetings thinking:

  • I hope everyone does what they need to now.
  • That was a waste of time.
  • I’ll have to follow-up with each person to make sure they don’t have other questions.
  • I wish the team shared more ideas.

More effective meeting management is possible, and the stage can be set in the first minutes–if you  know about the hidden phenomenon that makes your meetings unproductive in the first place.

The hidden phenomenon is that most meeting participants aren’t mentally, emotionally, or sometimes even physically present during the meeting.

They’ve been called to the meeting and may not be aware of why, their role, or the objective of the meeting. During the meeting, the person who called the meeting states the agenda and jumps right into Agenda Item #1. After talking for X minutes about the item, they ask, “Who has any questions or suggestions?” If there is no response within 3 seconds, they say, “Okay, let’s move on then.”

Repeat for Agenda item #2, #3, and so on and so on.

At the end of the meeting there is a final check for questions and maybe a quick review of what is happening next before adjournment.

Sound familiar? Have you been a party in one of these meetings lately?

Let’s face it, with this approach, the agenda could have possibly been accomplished with a simple email.

Why are these meetings so unproductive then? For now we’ll ignore the possibility that the agenda might have been ineffective;  the time for the meeting wasn’t right; or the meeting leader didn’t pause long enough for responses after asking questions. Instead, lets focus on…

The Hidden Phenomenon of Unproductive Meetings

The unproductive hidden phenomenon started within the first few minutes. The meeting leader started the meeting without engaging the attendees as active participants and didn’t set the stage for the human dynamics that are necessary whenever people are gathered together.

Author Atul Gawande calls this the Activation Phenomenon. We need to activate each person at the start of an event( whether that is a meeting, project, conversation, or activity) to earn their buy in, attention, participation, ownership, and energy.

For the past 19 years we didn’t know this phenomenon had a “name” even though we have focused on this dynamic at the start of all our client engagements and training workshops.

Gawande and his team found, that when a group of medical professionals came together to begin a surgery first introduced themselves and stated their role in the surgery, the level of communication increased. Each member, no matter what the level of their role, felt more at ease in speaking up…including when they saw a problem looming…resulting in more successful results of the surgery.

It’s the same in business meetings, sales conversations, demos, and even family dinner for goodness sake! When each person has “added their voice and energy” to the group, they become an active member of the group.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Yet from our observations in the last 45 days, this is not a common practice. Only 9% of meeting leaders include an “activation trigger” at the start of the gathering

What can you do to Activate Your Meetings?

 For your meetings (virtual or in-room) prepare for an activation trigger.

  • Allot time for this activation
  • Include it on your agenda
  • Model it for everyone on your team

A simple way to activate meeting participants is to complete a round robin or role call and ask each person to respond to a question or two.

  • If your participants know each other, the question can be directly related to the agenda, as described in the list below, or it can be something that helps them get to know each other even better. “What are you doing after work today?” “What’s been your highlight of the day so far?”
  • For those that don’t know each other ask each person to introduce themselves and then answer a question such as:
    • What’s your role in this project?
    • What’s your experience with xxxx?
    • What’s one question you want to make sure we answer during this meeting
    • What concern do you have with the status of xxxx?

The participants or attendees in your meetings are people…and this simple action at the start of your meetings will help you accomplish your meeting objective; create less follow-up and chasing; create more transparency and quantity of ideas; identify roadblocks sooner; and shorten your meeting times.
Let’s remove this hidden phenomenon that make your meetings unproductive. Believe me, everyone in your meetings will appreciate you for it!

Another unproductive phenomenon is letting objections stall sales. We’ve created a FREE e-course on Collaboratively Working Through Objections.

Check out the details here: How To Collaboratively Work Through Objections Video Course

4 Success Drivers You Need to Know...and Grow


How do you strengthen this "Will" among your sales associates? How does the lack of drive impact your daily life? I discussed this and so much more on a recent virtual training event you can access below. It's valuable information for any business leader who needs to maximize performance of their people to grow their company.

Click here to access the replay.