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.
Despite the popularity of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why,” leadership groups often have trouble staying at that level. Think of a time when your board or leadership team was meeting and someone brought up a new idea for a new program. It’s likely that without a lot of discussion about why you should or should not do the program, the discussion jumped into how you would do the program.
Is this new initiative strategically important?
I was working with an organization and another organization had come to them with an idea for a partnership. The senior leadership charged with managing the strategic direction of the organization assembled to consider the proposal. Rather than staying in the ‘why’ – why should we enter into this partnership? Is it in alignment with our mission? Does it support the goals articulated in our strategic plan? Will it help us reach a key audience? Will it build our brand and reputation? Does it capitalize on our core competencies? Will it help us strengthen key capacities? Will we be filling an important gap in the market? Instead they skipped right over those questions and had a long discussion about how the partnership could work. Who would be involved? When would be good timing to get started? So the key question of whether the partnership was important for the organization was missed.
Why are we working on this project?
Too often when teams start working together on a project they make the same mistake. Without talking about why they are assembled, what is important about the project, what they each bring to the project, they jump to project management. They start outlining and assigning tasks. This is why I find the Drexel-Sibbet model of team development particularly useful. It reminds the group to start with why. Its second stage considers who is in the group and takes some time to get to know each other. Only after why and who has been answered is the group truly ready to shift into what and how.
So the next time you are starting something new – considering a new idea for a new program or initiative or starting a new project, spend some time discussing the why. Why is this important for us? And if there is not enough ‘there, there’ when you answer why, remember you can also choose not to pursue the new idea!
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Those of us in social change and knowledge work spend a lot of time in meetings. Too few meetings optimize the contribution of everyone who is participating. Undoubtedly you have sat in meetings in which you wondered why the group was having it and why you were there.
A first step and very practical approach to improving meetings is to start with answering why you are having the meeting in the first place. I covered some of those basics here and have a handy worksheet to plan better meetings.
Yet most of what I covered in those posts and worksheet were the cognitive tasks you need to think through when planning: the why, who and how.
Beyond the Cognitive
:I was at a training led by Cocreative Consulting recently during which they introduced another way to think about meetings which I appreciated. They named four agendas (besides people’s personal agendas :) that engage the whole person in a meeting. They are:
Aligning – Connecting – Learning – Making
Aligning – This agenda engages the spirit and your intentions. Is the ‘why’ clear? Has the group aligned around a goal or shift they are trying to create?
Connecting – This agenda engages the heart. This is the agenda that too often in our action oriented culture we ignore. It can get dismissed as too “touchy feely.” Yet without trust, groups do not work at their highest potential. What element of connecting people to each other could you build into your next meeting? Remembering to do a check in and check out is a way to build this into your meeting. Asking each participant to answer a simple question that goes beyond basic introductions is another way. How do you help people share with other to build connection and connect to the people impacted by the work?
Learning – This agenda engages the head. Before the group jumps into problem-solving, have they clearly defined (and agreed) on the problem they are trying to solve together? Is there a wider more complex landscape that the challenge lies within? How might the group map that system so that they create a shared understanding?
Making – This agenda engages the hands. While traditional meetings often leave this out and end up being a lot of talk – what tangible product could the group produce that would move their work forward? How might you design the meeting so that the time spent together is focused on creating a product together rather than just planning? Is there a way to create a prototype together that brings the group’s ideas to life quickly?
I will be keeping these four agendas in mind as I design meetings in the future.
Need help thinking about how you might apply this to your context? Inquire about a coaching call.
I was having a meeting with a colleague recently and she went way off topic. Well it seemed like that to me at least. But then I had realized that I had not been clear about my request that prompted the meeting. I had not answered the critical question: What needs to have happened by the end of this meeting for it to have been successful? Why had I asked for the meeting in the first place?
What is our goal?
I have written about good meeting design and how it starts with why -- why are you having the meeting? Had I asked myself these questions to get clarity about my purpose I would have realized that I just wanted to know whether she had any feedback on a document before I send it out to a group we were both working with. I would have saved myself from momentary annoyance. And likely I would have realized that we did not even need a meeting. An email would have sufficed. But the meeting was already on the calendar and I was not paying enough attention.
Do I know the ‘why’?
With that in mind, I am going to look through my calendar and ask the question – why am I having this meeting? What am I trying to achieve? If I did not call the meeting – what do I want to get out of the meeting? Even if I do not control the overall goal of the meeting, I can get clear about my own goals. I can also call the question of the organizer if I am not clear, because others may not be as well.
Scan your calendar
Do yourself a favor – scan your calendar. Can you answer the why for each of your meetings that are coming up?
Want more productive meetings? Download this planning worksheet.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.