Lessons from Hollywood: Effectively leading remote meetings

The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced the world to embrace social distancing. This practice, for a large number of us, means working from home and learning to effectively utilize remote work technology tools. In the past 24 hours, I have used Teams, Zoom, and Skype, and guess what? They all got the job done. But not all of the meetings were effective. We are fortunate to live in a time when the tools exist and are readily accessible. The problem is, many feel that our challenge ends once the selection and acceptance of the tool is complete. This is far from the truth. Even with effective tools, human behavior is not only the most important element in this equation, but it also introduces the largest number of variables. Fear not! All those hours spent on the living room sofa consuming popcorn paired with our favorite beverage are not in vain. There are many important lessons about effectively leading remote meetings that we can learn from watching our favorite characters perform.

Top Gun: Maverick

remote meetings

Even Tom Cruise isn’t more powerful than a virus. Due for release in June 2020, “Top Gun: Maverick” is now delayed until December due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sometimes even our most productive team members will be under the weather and we may never know why. Systemic human issues are very real, and we need to be empathetic and respectful of our team when things don’t seem to be quite right. The lesson we take away from “Top Gun: Maverick” is that sometimes delaying remote meetings is the right thing to do. Especially if we are unsure of the magnitude of the consequences should we proceed.

That 70’s Show

A very effective method of engaging participants during online meetings takes us back to a time of bell bottoms and 8-track tapes. “That 70’s Show” introduced “the circle.” The circle was a camera perspective whereby each of the actors was given a few on-camera moments before moving to the next actor. There was no specific endpoint and the circle would continue most likely until someone yelled “cut!” For those of you familiar with “That 70’s Show” I would like to state that I do not encourage the use of cannabis while conducting remote meetings. Although it might make for some very creative problem-solving!

The concept of the circle helps us to move away from a common mistake often made when facilitating remote meetings. That mistake is committing the crime of monologue. It is important to remember that we live in a time when the average human attention span is eight seconds. We may, in fact, be delivering the most important monologue of the week. The problem is that the majority of our participants will only take in the first eight seconds. By using the concept of the circle, we promote dialogue with our participants and keep everyone actively engaged.


A very compelling crime drama compliments of Jason Bateman, “Ozark” follows a family living in the Ozarks and their involvement with a Mexican drug cartel. Faced with a matriarch and a patriarch battling for control, the family somehow manages to stay in the game, although only by the skin of their teeth. There is no question that the entire family is doomed to forever be in reactive mode just enough to stay alive for another episode.

The thing is, we can try to adjust the attitudes of our team through control, and we can even terminate or swap out team members to achieve our desired outcomes. However, if the problem persists it might have nothing at all to do with the misgivings of the team. It might be a not-so-subtle reminder to take a look at the bigger picture and get ahead of the game by being proactive and to even work on adjusting our own leadership approach. “Ozark” teaches us that when attempting to lead by monopolization, tenure is short.


The first time that a non-English film was awarded Best Picture at the Oscars, “Parasite” is a movie about a very poor family who infiltrates the lives of a very wealthy family.

While we tend to go to the same resources over and over again for input, feedback, and delivery of important or high-profile tasks, it is now more important than ever to listen and appreciate the input from all team members. The world has quickly made a shift and we are all struggling to quickly adjust. Part of that adjustment is listening to new approaches that come from a different perspective. The success of “Parasite” reminds us that sometimes even the most unlikely candidate can turn out to be the most successful.


“M*A*S*H” is a network sitcom about a military hospital unit during the Korean war that aired from 1972 to 1983. The surgeons represented in this show would use humor and fun as a way to relieve their fears and anxieties. But when it would come time to take care of the wounded soldiers, everyone immediately dropped everything to attend to the task at hand with laser focus. Attitudes, preferential friendships, personal issues, are all quickly set aside to take care of the wounded in the most efficient manner possible. Everyone comes together as a team.

remote meetings

“M*A*S*H” is a stellar example of the Form-Storm-Norm-Perform model of team development. The model affirms that you cannot simply put people together in a room and assume they will instantly become a productive team. Members need the opportunity to be stormy with each other. This may come in the way of arguments, tears, and frustration. But if we do not allow the stormy part to happen, there is no opportunity for the team to normalize and become productive. “M*A*S*H” teaches us that it is important to let the stormy happen!


Inspired by real events, “1917” takes place during World War 1 and documents the efforts of two British soldiers to deliver a potentially life-saving message across nine miles of enemy terrain. The compelling thing is that the movie shows three perspectives of the soldiers. They are portrayed as individuals, as friends, and as British soldiers and we see what a struggle it is for them to juggle these three perspectives in an effort to make the right decisions.

“1917” reminds us of the perspective of team members. Everyone has a responsibility to themselves that could mean dedication to outside interests and family responsibilities. Team members also have a responsibility to the team as an entity and contributing to the overall success. And then, there is the responsibility to the organization. There are ethics and morals attributed to each of these perspectives that factor into each decision that each team member makes. From “1917” we learn to never discount the depth of a decision that we ask our team members to make. Remember this the next time you are tasked with leading remote meetings.

We are doing research!

Movies and television shows are fabulous pastimes that are keeping many of us sane during the current social distancing. They are also a powerful learning tool that most can relate to at some level. Directors are masters at approaching storytelling from the perspective of many to engage as many audience members as possible. When we go beyond the surface entertainment that movies and television provide, we can find important lessons that have the potential to bring value to our teams and to our leadership, including how we lead remote meetings. Next time someone tells you that you are watching too much television, simply respond that you are doing organizational research!

Featured image: Shutterstock

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