One of the things that facilitators worry a lot when shifting from facilitating in the room to facilitating on line is not being able to “read the room.”
But what if they've been “reading the room” inaccurately?
Sometimes people's body language is super obvious yet most of the time in the workplace it tends to be more subtle. Facilitators may have been engaging in mind reading when they think they are reading the “vibe” in the room yet they really did not know what the participants in the group were thinking and feeling.
"Reading the room" online
What if facilitating online actually meant you paid more attention to “reading the room”?
How might you track it?
One of the tips for facilitating online is to check in more frequently with the group that you're working with.
Here are four ways to think about monitoring progress.
The first is to make sure that you're establishing connections and setting expectations at the beginning of your meeting. What is some pre work that people could engage in so that they could do some thinking beforehand? How might you spend a few minutes to help people get to know each other a little better? How might you use a tool like OARR - Outcomes agenda roles and rules --to orient people as you start out?
Signaling your turns
The second category is making sure that you're helping people track your progress in your process. You might use polling to assess your engagement, understanding and effectiveness. You might do a quick “POP” check in on purpose, outcomes and process. You need to ”signal your turns” so that you are clear about when you're moving from one agenda item to another. Take a pause to make sure everyone is with you especially if you are moving from using one technology tool to another. You can also use visual tools to help you track progress
Are we in agreement?
A third category is checking for understanding or checking for consensus. You'll likely want to do this more often in an online meeting than you would in person. This means that you need to allow more time to achieve the outcomes then you might have normally budgeted in an in-person meeting. It's slowing down and questioning your assumptions. Taking the time to make your thought process more explicit. Some tools that you might use included a quick check in what's called a “fist to 5.” You ask people to make a show of hands/fingers where they are. You designate what the fist means and what 5 fingers mean. Let's say 5 fingers means high agreement or understanding. This can be used in lots different ways. Another is the gradients of agreement which helps breakdown what consensus looks like. I've described using this tool another post.
Carol, how are you doing?
The fourth way to approach monitoring group progress online is to check in with individuals. In some ways online platforms makes this easier than in person. When I am in front of a large room of people it's unlikely that I'm going to be able to see all their name tags. Nut on a Zoom call I can see at least a first name or some kind of identifier to ask people individually how they're doing. You will want to have some discussion around group norms about whether it’s ok to ask people who haven't talked much to chime in and share. This may depend on the where your group is in terms of its evolution and development.
with you whose job it is to pay attention to and monitor the group. You might have a co-host who's monitoring reactions and gallery view while you're focused on facilitating the meeting. You will want to come to agreement beforehand that they can interrupt you and ask questions of the group. Most important (this certainly is true in an in person as well but even more so online), do not assume that silence means consent. Or assume it means discontent.
Need to learn more about how to work with groups effectively online? Check out my program.
If you are like a lot of the world, you suddenly having to lead your team and your meetings online. What do you need to do differently than your regular practices in the room?
Distraction, distraction, distraction
It is hard enough to keep everyone on track when you are together in a room. Then add technology and distance. Your phone and email chirping in the background. Getting on Zoom and wondering whether your co-workers have pants on. Your kids or pets making a ruckus in the next room. Online meetings have to fight for people’s attention even more than in person.
Ask for their focus
When you meet online, everything else on the person’s computer or device is there to distract them. A simple step you can take is to ask them to close their extra tabs, email, notifications, etc. for the duration of the meeting. Remember to take breaks. Take a moment for everyone to get out of their chair and stretch.
Match your tech tools with your participants
You may be excited about trying out the online brainstorming tool you just heard about but make sure that what you choose matches the skills of your participants. You want people focused on your conversation not on struggling to make the tool work. So for some groups Zoom and a google doc will be a perfect match. For others Zoom or another video conferencing tool plus an online brainstorming tool like Miro or Mural will work great.
Educate your participants
You can try and avoid spending the first 10 minutes of the meeting getting everyone acquainted with the technology systems by creating a video or two that provides a quick overview. Loom is good for this and very easy to use. You might also give the group a small assignment that gets them into the tool you will use for note taking. Something as simple as asking them to open a google doc and write their name at the top of the document. Or if you are using a more sophisticated tool such as Mural – have them do a check in process – this kick starts your check in at the beginning of the meeting and has them play with the tool with no time pressure.
Need to learn more? Consider enrolling in my four-week group coaching program, Effective Online Facilitation.
For more tips
We are spending our lives on Zoom and other video conferencing systems these days. What separates a meeting you dread and one that gets you excited about the work you do?
Even before we consider the challenges of meeting online, let’s consider what makes any meetings deadly.
So, review what makes any meeting work better. You can download my meeting planning worksheet to help guide you through the planning process.
Better online meetings
A couple steps for getting comfortable leading online meetings
This is important for any meeting but especially important when you also have to manage the technology you are using. As a first step, finishing the phrase – “By the end of this meeting, we will have XYZ” is a great place to start.
Online this is even more important. You will need to plan what tools you are using. You will need to make sure everyone can access the documents you will be referring to during the meeting, the files or system you will be using to capture notes and brainstorms, etc. Also plan for a lower tech plan B.
You need to familiarize with the systems you are using to run the meeting. Take some time to play with the system before you pull the group together. Consider testing some features with a colleague and see what you can “break.”
Want help educating yourself? Consider enrolling in my four-week group coaching program, Effective Online Facilitation.
Groups often fear working on a consensus basis because they are afraid of the time it will take to make a decision. They are afraid of being caught in a spiral of discussion, more discussion and yet more discussion and no resolution. They may be afraid of this because they may assume that everyone has to be 100% behind a decision for the group to move ahead.
When a group is considering an issue, ideally there is a discussion that considers a wide range of options. Then the discussion comes to a clear end point with a decision. Once a decision is made the group moves to action. This image illustrates this ideal.
Americans tend to be quite action oriented and in our culture we can get impatient easily, wanting to jump to a decision. And thus more frequently it feels like this:
Part of the group thinks a decision has been made and others thinks the item is still up for discussion. And still others may not be clear what decision is on the table.
Once the group is clear about what they are deciding, a useful tool for testing the level of agreement is the consensus continuum.
Applying the continuum
I was part of a board that used this continuum when it was deliberating about a very challenging situation. There was no good solution to the high stakes problem we were facing. There were only several bad choices to choose from. Which bad choice was better than the other? We deliberated for a long time. Deliberation happened over multiple meetings, over multiple weeks. Ultimately we were able to make a decision that everyone in the group could live with even if it was not their preferred option by using this tool.
How many people you need to have in the 1-3 zone will depend on how high stakes a decision it is. Using this as a check in can move along even decisions that may seem like they are low stakes but are taking a long time. You may find it is higher stakes for some in the group.
Making time for process
Groups often want to jump to action and resist taking time on ‘process’ issues. Being clear about how the group makes decisions is a core process issue that rarely gets discussed. Taking the time can actually save the group both time and angst in the long run.
Have a group that needs help with how they are working together? Reach out for a coaching session.
Through my work I interview a lot of people. Most projects include some interviews or focus groups as part of the discovery process. I used to end my interviews with the question, “Is there anything else I need to know for this project/process?”
Most of the time the answer would be, “no, nothing else.”
Then one time I said, “What else do I need to know for this project/process?” And a whole lot more spilled out from the person I was talking with.
“Is there anything else…?” “What else…?” doesn’t seem on surface to be very different.
Yet it shifts the focus from a finite yes/no answer to the more open ended, “what else…?” And embedded in the question is the assumption that there is something else. Something else that I could not have anticipated in the questions I have already asked.
Small tweaks can make a difference
It seems like a little bit of a throw away. Yet often the most interesting and revealing answers are to that question.
So small tweaks can have a big impact. What small tweaks have you made recently in your work that had an impact?
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.