8 question types in team meetings

Lu Luo
April 6, 2022

Questions are a critical language tool for team collaboration and communication. The ability for team members to efficiently request and exchange important information leads to better functioning teams, and can even improve team bonding.

Naturally, many of the questions posed, discussed, and answered in a meeting represent team knowledge with value beyond the meeting itself. But in today’s meetings, most of this value is lost because no one watches meeting recordings. So extracting the right questions and their associated context automatically is a useful feature of an AI meeting assistant.

Extracting important questions effectively requires an awareness of the types of questions commonly posed during meetings. A lot of information exists about question types from a linguistic point of view, but there is not much information specific to the patterns of spoken dialogue encountered in meetings and webinars.

Linguistic question classification

Common linguistic or logical classifications of questions include:

  • Open or close-ended questions: whether the space of possible answers is mostly fixed or open
  • Rhetorical questions: questions asked without the expectation of a direct answer
  • Tag questions: common speech phrasings in which an interrogative fragment is appended to a statement ("You're on the marketing team, aren’t you?")

These types of classifications are useful for thinking about question value and detection. In our work we’ve expanded this area with classifications more specific to team meetings.

Question classification for meetings

In the context of meetings, these are some of the question types we’ve identified and studied. Each type serves a specific function within a meeting. Some types are valuable for team knowledge, and others serve no enduring purpose and should usually be ignored by question detection systems.

Information or opinion gathering questions

This category is the most important for relevance to meeting content. These questions are directly aimed at acquiring information or getting feedback from others.

Examples:

  • “What time is the customer meeting?”
  • “How long will it take to finish work on the project?”
  • “Is there any feedback on the document I shared?”

Meeting glue

Some cases lead into the next section of a meeting, or serve as a prompt for questions or comments. Examples:

  • “Anything else?”
  • “Any questions/comments on...?”
  • “Can you share just a little bit more about...?”

Confirming others understand what’s being communicated or discussed. Examples:

  • “Does that make sense?”
  • “Can you repeat that again?”
  • “Is that what you are saying?”
  • Muttering. These types of questions do not usually require an answer. Examples:
  • “Where was I?”
  • “What was I saying?”
  • “Where do I start?”

Sometimes meeting glue questions are relevant to a meeting’s agenda flow. But generally they are not important outside of the operation of the meeting.

Small talk

Small talk questions are posed about content related to team members, but not usually about topics relevant to a meeting. There is great value in small talk for building trust and connection, but usually the content is not meaningful for contributing to a team’s collective knowledge.

The syntactic structure of small talk questions are not necessarily different from knowledge-related questions, but the content is mostly not relevant to the meeting itself.

Examples where syntactic cues can be used to detect small talk:

  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “How is everything?”
  • “Everything OK?”

Tag questions

Tag questions have little to do with the content of the meeting. They usually serve as prompts for acknowledgment or understanding of content, and are not useful outside of the meeting.

Examples of tag questions include:

  • “... isn’t it?”
  • “... right?”
  • “... doesn’t it?”
  • “... you know?”
  • “... so what?”

Rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions can take many forms, but their defining characteristic is that they are not posed in expectation of an answer. They are used to make a point or start a discussion. Many formulations of questions may be either rhetorical or not. The determination depends on the surrounding context.

Some examples:

  • “Who cares?”
  • “Can you believe it?”
  • “How can we proceed?”

References to Questions

In conversation about planning or strategy it is common to refer to a question without actually posing it. This is a mention in use-mention terminology. In this case a direct answer is not expected, but the question is usually directly relevant to the discussion topic. The determination that a question is used as a reference often depends on surrounding context.

References to questions can be hypothetical, for example:

“And so when you think about your go-to market strategy, there are key questions that it’s going to answer. It answers, what is the market that we are going to pursue? It’s going to answer, what is the actual offering, the product? How are we going to reach the customer? How much are we going to charge?”

References to questions also appear in illustrating situations that are either fabricated or generalized from multiple real past experiences. For example:

”They find my offering compelling. And when I get out there and I say, do you want to buy it? They are not interested in it anymore.”

Helper questions

Helper questions are used as transitions or to frame the speaker’s upcoming answer. They usually indicate a new topic or subtopic boundary.

Examples:

“And how do we add this newly created branch here in the menu? It seems simple at first because we could just add it and append into the branch list. But then we run into a problem...”

“So what are some of the implications for building on AWS? We looked at the EC2 image builder. One of the more challenging parts...”

Suggestions or requests for action

Suggestions that take the form of questions are similar in that they don’t really require an answer. They may be expecting an agreement in response, and are meant to inspire an action. They may be formulated as a conditional statement (”I wonder if ...”).

Examples:

“So I was wondering if we could start by reducing the processing time so that our throughput is higher.”

“Can we somehow label items so that we can easily see what can be worked on and what cannot?”

Valuable meeting knowledge

Questions are powerful tools to share information, encourage discussion, and secure agreement. Extracting knowledge from meetings inevitably involves understanding the use of questions and discerning which questions (and their answers) contain valuable knowledge. Sometimes this information is obvious from the question itself. Other times only the surrounding context is the deciding indicator of value. Understanding the different forms questions can take helps with building systems to extract that knowledge.

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