The fact that your teams are virtual means you have to keep them engaged during meetings or they will drift off and it is highly likely you won’t get the outcomes you are counting on. Often virtual meetings can be boring, hard to sit through, and unproductive. Here are some simple ways to maximize the value of virtual meetings and make them less agonizing for everyone involved:
1) Create a good agenda
We all know we need an agenda to run a meeting, but a good agenda is more than just a list of items to cover. It needs to be well thought out and sent out ahead of time so the team can prepare. Even though you sent it out in advance, ensure you also clearly review it at the beginning of the meeting so your teams know what’s expected of them and what to expect from the time together. A good virtual meeting agenda clearly states:
- What the meeting is trying to achieve. Do they need to actually make decisions? Will the meeting require input, or can they use part of their brains to answer email? Virtual team members will occasionally become distracted, but giving them a valid reason to stay engaged is critical. Knowing the agenda, desired outcomes, and expectations will help everyone stay on track, and allow team members to keep each other accountable.
- The time commitment. We have all sat in meetings thinking about all the other things we should be doing – in a virtual environment it can be significantly more difficult to focus and be constructive. If your dispersed team knows that the meeting will take an hour, they can mentally block out the time and be productive and engaged.
- Expectations. If you want your virtual teams to actively participate, tell them so and specify how you want their input (chat, voice, signal flare). Hold them accountable for their participation by calling for input throughout the meeting. Create an excuse for people to participate by asking everyone for a quick update early in the meeting (see # 5). This validates that it would be unwise to put you on mute and answer email – reinforce for them that they will need to engage and contribute to every agenda item.
2) For each agenda item, assign a “facilitator” from the group
Appoint one person per agenda item to facilitate, or lead, the discussion for that topic. Everyone has a responsibility to engage the discussion, however set the ground rule in advance that the selected leader guides the discussion, and keeps it moving forward. This has three benefits: 1) it establishes a sense of ownership and responsibility amongst the team 2) it provides order to the conversation flow and creates a pause between agenda items and 3) It helps maintain focus and engagement as the facilitator changes between agenda items. Overall, it keeps the discussion flowing and the attention focused.
3) Guide the discussion with a simple slide deck
The purpose of the deck (prepared in advance) is to structure and guide the discussion and should contain the following:
- An agenda with topics of discussion, timeframes and owners
- 1 slide per discussion topic
- Key questions (for group discussion) on each agenda item
Overall, keep the deck short and simple. It should facilitate discussion, not be the focus of it.
4) Appoint a time keeper
Have someone (other than you) be a timekeeper. This person’s role is to watch the clock and remind the team when the agenda is falling behind schedule. The agenda times are not set in stone, but use the guidelines to focus on the important areas of discussion. If people know that the meeting will take one hour, they can mentally block out the time and be productive.
5) Start every meeting with a one minute “round-robin”
Every team member has one minute to highlight what s/he accomplished since the last meeting, what was challenging and what s/he is planning to do next in support of the project/account/etc.
6) Balance the flow of communication
Rather than give your virtual teams too much information all at once, encourage discussion, debate, and questions within each agenda item. Calling on people by name is fair: say their name first, and then repeat the of the question or request… just in case they didn’t hear it the first time. This will keep your dispersed team from tuning out. When they see their peers contribute and take part, they’re more likely to do so as well, if only out of the fear they’ll be called on next. It should be an expectation of being on the call and part of the way your team always operates, not used to punish the inattentive.
7) Record the meeting
Recording the meeting frees you (and others) from furiously taking notes. Make it clear that the recording is only for note taking and it will not be used for any other purposes. When you review the recording later, you are likely to hear comments or statements that you may have missed during the actual meeting.
8) Finish on time
Make sure you finish on time. If you are running behind, ask if everyone can extend the call by 5-10 minutes – with permission, proceed. If you can’t finish the full meeting in the allotted time, request a short follow up, or communicate the remaining agenda items via email and request input.
9) Encourage online chatting
Adding chat-room functionality is a great way to keep the team connected, as well as monitoring the mood and engagement of your meeting attendees. Allowing and even encouraging chat will provide good insight in the following areas:
- Who’s paying attention and who isn’t?
- What are their concerns? Many a true word is spoken in jest, so don’t discount the jokes and asides…
- Who’s bought in and who’s resisting?
- Who haven’t you heard from in a while? If they’re not contributing to the chat, how do you know they’re paying attention?
After each call, hold a short debrief with your team leads to review the call and identify anything notable that was learned, as well as anything that should be improved on future calls. Once you work out the kinks, your meetings will flow well, with everyone on the team being engaged and contributing their knowledge and expertise to the greater good.
Are you strategically managing your virtual meetings?
Please engage the discussion and let us know how you manage your virtual team meetings. Always feel free to contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next week, for next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders.