In the face of travel restrictions resulting from COVID-19, organizational leaders around the globe need to broker critical collaborations between business partners via video conferencing. What is more, these meetings often involve upwards of 20-30 people. What can you do to ensure that your virtual meetings are a success?
Facilitation is important in every meeting, but in virtual meetings you have to take a very proactive stance. As you move into each topic ensure folks understand
- What you are trying to achieve?
- Why you are trying to achieve it?
- What if any inputs they should be referencing?
- How much time you have to accomplish your objectives?
As the facilitator of a virtual meeting you have to be very aware of which voices you are and are not hearing. If you have progressed half way through a topic and have yet to hear from a particular stakeholder group, pause the conversation and directly solicit contributions. This ensures that no one is disenfranchised because they feel challenged to speak-up or are struggling with technology.
In addition, you need to effectively manage “dead air.” In face-to-face meetings you may allow the silence to linger after posing a particularly challenging question, not so in virtual collaborations. People will end pondering whether they have been cut off or the mute button is on rather than considering the weight of the question posed. If you hit pockets of dead air be prepared to move the meeting on to the following topic, invite the next speaker to begin, or ask a direct question of someone.
Structure and Process
Distributing a clear agenda well before the virtual collaboration is critical. But you must also assume only a percentage of people will have read it. Spend the first few minutes of your meeting reviewing the objectives and agenda so everyone is aligned on the commitment.
The structure of your agenda is essential to the success of a virtual collaboration. Follow this general process – Question – Evidence – Discussion – Conclusion – Next Steps. This flow allows time for presentation of existing ideas and the introduction of new and different perspectives before moving to conclusion.
- Question – What is the question we are trying to answer? Why is it important? Who is asking it?
- Evidence – What information do we have about this question? What facts have been identified? What work has already been accomplished?
- Discussion – Given our knowledge of this issue, what do we think possible answers might be? What are the strengths and weaknesses of these responses?
- Conclusion – What is the best path forward? Which of our proposed answers are right for the organization at this time?
- Next Steps – How do we move this work forward? Who owns it? What is the next specific set of deliverables?
The tools that support virtual collaboration become more and more effective every year that passes. Zoom and Mural are two platforms that we often favor. Zoom allows for virtual breakout groups and Mural enables team collaboration on digital whiteboards via both virtual sticky notes and drawing tools. Company platforms vary, but as long as you design your process to fit the idiosyncrasies of your organization’s technology, you can achieve success.
One of your critical success factors in a virtual collaboration is the speedy publishing of accurate meeting outcomes. Lacking the momentum that often is built during an effective face to face collaborative meeting it becomes very important to ship out a quick, concise, but comprehensive view of the meeting outcomes and any specific next steps. Given that people were in different rooms, with different notes, and different distractions having one version of the “truth” of the meeting becomes important. I’d suggest asking for feedback when you send the deliverable out so that folks feel like if something has not been captured or has not been captured accurately they have the permission to send you edits. The deliverable is as much a device to increase the ownership in the meetings outcomes as it is anything else.
Virtual meetings can be both productive and meaningful experiences. While you may experience a learning curve, don’t be afraid to jump in and begin integrating them into your company’s culture.
What are your hints and tips for effective virtual collaboration?