How to run a better virtual meeting
Poor remote meetings will extinguish your humanity in minutes. Here’s some guide to getting them right.
In the world before lockdowns, self-isolation and work-from-home virtual teams and remote meetings were on the rise. Now they are nearly guaranteed to become the predominant mode of getting work done for many teams. And there is no future, short of extinction, where meetings won’t happen in one form or another.
Here’s our evidence based guide to getting virtual meetings right:
1. Allow time for people to be introduced and to become familiar. Virtual meetings often show flight to task, but remember that efficient is not always the same as effective. A pure task-focus can decrease social cohesion, leading people to remain on the sidelines, fixed in their roles and unwilling to challenge authority. Introduce people to each other to foster connection, soften hierarchy through inviting full participation and allow time for people to become familiar with different accents and viewpoints.
2. Match the meeting length to its goals. Beware Parkinson’s law: work expands to fill the time, while on the other hand human attention fades as time drags on. Since people prefer shorter meetings to long ones don’t let the calendar default determine the length of your meeting.
- Be clear about the end time. Open-ended meetings are an invitation for blather and grandstanding. Honour people’s time by sticking to end times.
- If you have to have longer sessions. Show some compassion: schedule bathroom breaks! Break the meeting into chunks.
3. Increase participation by posing the agenda as a series of questions. The best meetings stimulate thinking and curiosity through interaction. Stiff, formal agendas promote one-way communication. Framing the agenda as questions helps focus attendees and promotes an action orientation. Instead of “Staff wellbeing”, the item could be “How can we boost wellbeing for staff who work remotely?”
4. Actively facilitate the meeting. Technology makes for jerky, uncoordinated contributions and a clunky feel. Facilitation (ie meeting leadership) smoothes the process. There are four key elements to good facilitation: ensuring psychological safety (ie people are safe to disagree and free from put-downs); keep the meeting moving towards its goals or outcomes; ensuring participation and good discussion (by making sure those who talk too much are held to a minimum and those who are quiet are invited to contribute); raising group intelligence by frequently summarising and paraphrasing. That means posing questions to the group, like:
· “The options we have are these – does anyone see it differently?”
· “So we covered a, b and c. Is there anything we are missing?”
· “We seem really set on this direction – let’s spend 10 minutes challenging that direction to test our thinking”.