Facilitating Team Meetings in a Virtual World – How to keep your remote teams focussed and motivated
6 months into a hybrid world where most of us work from home and I still see many leaders struggling with remote leadership, especially running effective team meetings. It’s hard enough to keep team meetings engaging and impactful when everyone meets in the same room, working remotely has only added challenges.
‘You are on mute’, ‘You just froze’, ‘Anyone any questions? *crickets’…are just some of the phrases we have gotten used to.
The challenges when people meet virtually are predominantly:
- Shorter attention span: it’s even harder to keep people focussed for long periods of time
- Multi-tasking: when people are not engaged, they tend to do other things like answering emails etc. and on online platform it’s much easier to get away with it
- Home-work environment: people can get distracted by pets, family, noise working from home
- Introvert/extravert: with a lack of presence and body language this personality trait can show up much stronger with extraverts taking up more airtime and introverts being more quiet than usual
- Zoom-fatigue: people are tired of constant video-based meetings
Team leaders need to go back to the drawing board and be intentional about their meetings, from planning the meeting to conducting the meeting and changing as necessary.
A success story
I am working with a team leader in the banking industry who has managed to re-invent virtual team meetings early on in their WFH world. Before having any tactical meetings, she actually called for a virtual meeting with her leaders to come up with their preferred structure and content going forward.
What worked well for her and her team is that team members feel empowered to have a say, feel accountable as some of the ideas came from them and also feel that flexibility and feedback ensures the meetings are relevant at all times. They agreed to have a check-in at the beginning of each meeting (now changed to an icebreakers), department updates are published on OneNote 24 hours prior to the meeting and each team member prepares at least one ‘here is how you can help me’ to discuss with the team (brilliant for problem solving, critical thinking etc.). They take turns for taking minutes and there is a 2-minute feedback loop at the end of each meeting. Meetings are capped at 45 minutes. This team leader has managed to only have 20% airtime and acts as a facilitator, the heavy lifting comes from the team.
I have designed 6 practical steps to make your meetings more effective and keep your team members motivated:
Take time to plan your meeting including anticipated outcome and agenda. Think about timing, not every meeting needs to be 1 hour. Consider sending updates and data up-front to all team members to digest and use the meeting time to problem solve, brainstorm or innovate. Also involve your team members in designing the meetings. Ask them what they need to get out of the meeting. Remember it’s as much their meeting as it is yours.
Be specific when sending the calendar invite and content. Send the agenda along with what you expect from everyone, especially what they need to prepare, read or think about and what you expect from everyone during the meeting. That allows you to call on everyone which encourages your quieter team members to participate and that balances airtime. It also gives you opportunities for interventions (e.g. give feedback to people who don’t come prepared)
Make sure all team members are set up appropriately to be able participate. Use suitable technology and platforms and offer resources if necessary. Prepare your documents and ppt if necessary, think of an icebreaker, business stories and interactive parts and write a run sheet for yourself so that you stay on track and don’t run over. Send a reminder to team members if necessary
Lead by example and make sure you are not distracted. Follow the agenda and honour everyone’s time. Consider ‘check-ins’ and icebreakers (mix it up) at the beginning to get everyone’s attention and also make it personal and fun. Engage with people and use video on or off depending what is conducive for your team. Video on is great for people to see each other but it can be draining for people who have lots of virtual meetings. Leave time for Q&A and feedback at the end of the meeting. Ask for feedback on how the team meetings are working for everyone and take suggestions into consideration.
Use the feedback and outcomes and review the meetings. Measure on engagement, goals and strategies from meeting and overall feedback from team members.
Be flexible with your meeting content and purpose and change as you, team members and the organisation see fit. There might be parts that you have to make mandatory to ensure business outcomes and performance but change the way these are facilitated and presented. Consider getting your team members more involved and put them in charge of conducting part of the meeting and let them determine what should be part of the meetings. It will result in increased buy-in. Remember, you are the conductor, you don’t have to pay every instrument.
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