Making Virtual Meetings Work

I had a rare type of day recently.  I spent the entire day today in meetings today. Something I rarely do, but was able to meet people from across not only the UK but across Europe and all from the comfort of my office.  These meetings were using SKYPE and we had video on, which always helps.

We have all had conference calls where they often seem to be a waste of time, eloquently captured in:

In one organization I worked in, they created an app.  When the virtual meeting started they punched in the internal hour rate of each participant and as the meeting rolled on, it showed to all, the cost to the company of that meeting, and the meeting host would ask at the end of the meeting if the meeting had been productive.  How many meetings in your company would you class as being productive?

The reason why so many meetings do not work regardless of them being face-to-face or virtual is a lack of ground rules.  We have ground rules for all other aspects of our work, so why not for running meetings?  I came across a good quote along the lines of, “to buy a stapler we need all sorts of approvals and justifications, before purchase, yet anyone can call a meeting with no accountability, and waste a lot of company money”.  We need meeting ground rules.

There are two types of meeting that should be considered:

  1. The collaboration meeting:
    • The assumption being that everyone is going to contribute.
  2. The for information meeting:
    • The assumption being that we are there to listen, and may or may not be expected to contribution.

Let me focus on 1. the collaboration meeting and consider some ground rules.  There are many blogs and articles on managing meetings, but let me focus on a few key items:

  • Meeting duration. I always try to arrange a maximum meeting time of one hour. There will be times when longer is required, so be sensible and deliver one hour, have a small break then continue.
  • Number of attendees. If everyone is there to contribute then limit the number of attendees.  Say no more than seven.
  • Agenda.  We all know we need an Agenda and that it should be circulated ahead of time, but often I find issues:
    • Over ambition; too many points to consider and if anyone has a point to discuss it messes with the Agenda items
    • Not sticking to the Agenda.  We set out to talk about the following…., but end up talking about something completely different.
    • If the meeting length is an hour and we have a maximum of seven participants then stick to a maximum of four agenda items.
    • A great technique to use when someone goes “rogue” on the Agenda is to park the issue.  Acknowledge that it is of importance, but the meeting leader, should set the item aside to discuss at a later date.  Since the other participants came to discuss the agreed Agenda, then let’s not waste their time.
  • Time. Start and end the meeting on time.  Waiting for late arrivals is always counter productive.  If we always accommodate them, then either we master the art of speaking quicker within the remaining meeting time, or simply drop an agenda item!
  • Using tools.  More and more meetings are becoming virtual and tools over and beyond the telephone are available.  Become familiar with the technology and use the capabilities. For example, you could use a desktop conferencing tool such as Webex, SKYPE for business etc.  In this domain, we could:
    • Use the video capability – people will pay more attention to the meeting
    • Share desktops.  You could share the Agenda and then type the meeting minutes as you proceed.  This creates a visually more interactive mode of communications for participants.
    • Use the chat feature, it will add more opportunities to capture thoughts and ideas. It’s also a great way of reminding everyone to mute their mic when not talking.
    • Enhance the experience and consider using the poll features or the like / dislike option.
  • Make ground rules the norm. Telling individuals to follow rules does not work.  You need to continually tell them!
    • Share your ground rules in the meeting joining instructions.
    • When participants join the meeting show your ground rules at the start and walk them through them.
    • Stick to the ground rules.  They will make meetings more effective, if you stick to them.

Make virtual meetings work for you!



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