From Face to face to Virtual Training / Workshop Delivery

I have spoken to a number of companies recently with the following issue.  They have delivered training and workshops face to face and now being asked to deliver the materials virtually.  They are under pressure to simply place materials into a virtual delivery platform and get the job done.

I do not recommend this simplistic approach.  The danger is that without considering the delivery medium, and preparing the trainer for virtual delivery, the output will not be robust in quality.  Some suggestions, when converting and delivering:

  1. Break up virtual sessions into meaningful chunks. A typical 9:00-12:00 delivery should become: Session 1: 9:00-10:00 (then have a ten-minute break). Session 2: 10:10-11:00 etc.   If you put yourself in the shoes of the attendee, then they can only remain concentrated for a short period, so break the sessions down.
  2. For each session, plan the materials into the three D’s: Deliver, Discuss, Do.
    1. Deliver: The presenter delivers materials but ensure that this is not monologue delivery. It is hard to do continuously and is not engaging.
    2. Wherever possible, discuss. Engage attendees with discussion points; use Socratic techniques to elicit answers (What do you think is happening here?  What issues could this present?)
    3. Do. Get attendees to work together on some key learning point.  Most virtual platforms have some kind of collaboration zone, where attendees can be broken into groups to work and apply the materials to some issue.  A form of virtual flip-chart.
  3. Start on time and always end on time. Ensure that you do not have too much materials, and only enough for the time selected.  If you go over your time limit, your attendees, will start zoning out.  I use the formula of one slide equates to three minutes of delivery.
  4. Make the materials as visual as you can. Avoid death by bullet point.
  5. To assist in getting the attendee to focus on key learning points, start highlighting key lines, draw concepts using the available annotation tools.
  6. Use Video to deliver alongside any materials. Attendees may or may not use their video but use yours.  You will find this hard, if you are not use to it, but keep looking into the camera and smile.  Encourage attendees to use their video.  Some brave sole may put theirs on, and in turn others may follow.  Now when you want to ensure a learning point has been understood, you can see it in their faces, and not ask them to click unmute and say they do.  Video helps to create better engagement.

For those are delivering, some suggestions:

  1. Make sure your room is very well lit. You may need additional lighting, especially when delivering from home.
  2. Dress appropriately, depending on your audience.
  3. Make sure that the view behind you is “neutral” look to ensure that there are no distractions for the attendee. Microsoft Teams has a great blur feature that focuses on the presenter and not the background.
  4. A good headphone is worthy investment. This will ensure good audio.  Additionally, a good webcam will ensure that the picture is clear.
  5. Test all equipment out before starting. Do not log in ten minutes before.  Test the systems, the materials, the activities well in advance.
  6. Ensure you have plenty of water near to you. Keep hydrated throughout your delivery.
  7. If you are delivering from home, consider all external sounds. If your window open?  What happens when there is a delivery during delivery?
  8. If you normally use wifi, connect your machine to your internet hub using a good ethernet cable.
  9. When you start your session. A good opening is essential.   Tell them what to expect in terms of the materials and the learning points.   This is your hook.  Once hooked, now walk attendees through the system you are using so that they now the basics of how to speak, contribute to chat etc.
  10. Keep your phone on silent and preferably away from you, so that you have no distractions when delivering.

When I initially delivered virtually it was new and challenging.   It is the norm now for me, but has taken time to shape the way I deliver and develop the necessary techniques to create a successful event.

Virtual Working Not Remote Working

When people worked / collaborated with others it was colloquially known as virtual and remote working.   The word remote seems all wrong in today’s context.  As more and more people operate at a distance from others, they are operating virtually.  But we do not want to create the sense that team member’s are remote to one another.  This does not facilitate teamwork and getting results.   Virtual working is becoming more mainstream, but simply giving someone a laptop and internet access is not enough.  We need the right “virtual”mindset.

Co-located working provides a rich context where we have form relationships with colleagues, communicate effectively and quickly and work in close proximity on a task.  This is a rich and dynamic form of working, but when compared to virtual and remote working, it becomes apparent that more proactive effort is required to build and maintain relationships, and that effective communications in virtual and remote operations.

In a virtual and remote working, we working with colleagues where the focus is primarily on the task, and the separation from other colleagues does not allow us to proactively build the spirit of the team.  Sometimes we do not even know what colleagues look like as they have never seen them, and communication has been limited to email alone.  We rely of IT tools that are made available to us.  What has not been considered is the message being delivered, and what is the most effective tool to deliver it.  Why rely on email (a poor tool, for all tasks, in the virtual world) when other tools exist, such as Blogs, Wikis and team SharePoint sites?

person using macbook pro on white table

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on

When we work together, we have ground rules.  A key failure factors in a virtual team is the lack of explicit ground rules: how to communicate, escalate issues and share ideas.  Simply detailing these ground rules and making them available to all, creates success.

Delegate – Learn to Let Go

Delegation can be hard for a manager, especially those new to the role.  When your main focus has been on adding value through your technical value-add, moving towards a management role where you need to focus on other tasks learning to delegate becomes an important task to master.  Learning to delegate means learning to let go.

By letting go, you are now free to do these new tasks that your role demands.

Delegation involves coaching, feedback, tracking to maintaining progress, communicating and asking questions.  The aim is to build the capacity in others so that you can free your time on being a manager.

To delegate effectively:

  • Define the scope
    • The purpose, the big picture, stakeholder expectations, timelines and any shaping constraints
    • Do not fall into the trap of telling them how to do it; ask them for their ideas and approaches.  Encourage them to learn, try, experiment where possible.   Your role is there to support, coach and advise on the journey they take.
  • Select the individual / team
    • Play to the strengths of the individual or team. Assess the risks involved.  If the task is of high risk, this may not be the time to delegate.   Be aware of the demotivating impact of always delegating the same task to the same person.  Develops the hamster wheel effect.
  • Regular progress updates
    • You want to make sure that they are on rack and progress can be a mixture of formal and informal reviews.  Informal meetings can be powerful as they show openness; the meeting is seen as an opportunity and not as a threat

Delegating is not easy.  The first time is difficult.  But like most activities, the more you practise, the easier it becomes.

Pros and Cons of a Matrix Structure – Better Get Use To It

matrix-1799661_1920A matrix is a grid type organization that allows it to address multiple dimensions: Functions: product / service lines and geographies.  Typically an individual may have a mixture of reporting lines: both solid and dotted line.

Increasingly, large complex, global organizations have employed a matrix operating structure.  So why do it?

The advantages include:

It helps to break the silo mentality and structure, by

  • Increasing co-operation across vertical silos
  • Utilizing resources and talent where available 
  • Aids in delivering horizontal work, by
    • Serving global customers
    • Managing the supply chain more efficiently and effectively
    • Running streamlined integrated systems and processes
  •  Provides speed of response
    • The ability to respond to the importance of the global, local, business and functional requirements
  • Develops broader capabilities
    • Enhances capabilities that delivers value across the organization

A lot of these advantages can be categorized as being of benefitting the organization.

When focusing on the disadvantages, these can often be focused on the individual operating within the matrix and can include:

  • Goals are not clear
    • Who is doing what where are when. Often goals become misaligned due to a lack of communications, but also on not considering the bigger picture.
  • Determining who is in charge
    • The traditional organizational chart is of no use. We need to develop the matrix structure diagram by considering stakeholders, direct and indirect. Often these charts are fluid depending on what you do and the maturity of the activity.
  • Poor communication
    • The silo mentality takes over. What an individual needs to achieve can only be achieved through the combined efforts off the team, but if you do not know the formal and the informal members, then communicating becomes an issue
  • Lack of direct accountability
    • Going back to classic RACI model (Responsibility, Accountability, Consult and Inform) provides a process for identifying each contribution to an activity and decision-making. Knowing who is ultimately in charge, always helps!
  • Delays in making decisions
    • Often occurs because we do not know who is in charge. The other issue, becomes, who to inform and who needs to know when a decision is required.  Making a decision can often be easier than seeing it through within a matrix structure.
  • Increase in conflict
    • Created due to a range of issues goal misalignment, operating distance, lack of accountability. If you are operating in a matrix, and there is no conflict, then ask yourself if you really are in a matrix. The setup and implementation of a matrix, will result in conflict and potential conflict arising.  Managing the conflict in a proactive manner becomes key.








Customer Services – An Approach to Teamwork and Effective Communication

call-center-2537390_640When we consider the topic of customer services, we often think of organisations in a for profit world that are keen to impress their clients to extend their relationships.  The same ethos applies in a not for profit organization.

Often large organizations have many employees that never interact with their end “customers or clients”, but in fact deal mostly with their internal colleagues.  Whenever an individual creates an output that is used as an input by someone else, whether they are internal or external, they should be considered as a customer.

 By developing a customer centric approach, and ultimately creating a customer centric culture, the end benefits are clear.  You attain:

  • Teamwork by breaking the silo mentality
  • Communications that is enhanced by seeking feedback
  • Outputs are of value add in the eyes of our customers

A customer centric alignment focuses at the heart its customer and then everything we do is to manage the expectations of the customer.  When we make promises and then do not deliver, the customer does not forget.  A key component is on problem solving.  Consider why has the problem occurred and what can we do to prevent it from reoccurring.  This can only be achieved by working with the customer, showing you care and working with fellow colleagues to develop a customer orientated culture.

“Creating a customer orientated culture needs changes in behaviours and mind-sets.  Sweat the small things: following up on issues, being proactive, openly communicate and seek feedback.  When you add all the small things up, you develop real change.”


Navigate Leadership a Synopsis

A few years ago I co-authored a leadership book, developed by four Authors with over 30 years of leadership experience.  It is based on two books: Navigate Executive Leadership Part 1 and Part 2 by C.V Kroll, J. Williams, R. Dogra and J. Malpass.

Reflecting back on the contents and structure, it  still remain relevant today and wanted to provide a synopsis.

 This book consists of practical tools to implement and an opportunity to apply and then reflect on learning. It is based on sixteen modules that guides individuals, regardless of background and industry towards the transition of becoming a leader and developing leadership competencies.

The aim is not to provide a step by step guide towards leadership, but allow you to focus on your leadership journey and focus on the areas that help in enhancing your leadership transition and development.

An overview of each module is shown below

Plan journeys

Because of the many aspects and complexity of the path to Executive Leadership, via our selected strategies with specific goals, a sound travel plan is essential, both for us personally and for our organisation.

  • Planning your transition to leadership
  • Assessing and adapting your route
  • Developing leadership goals and outcomes
  • Identifying the time frame for the journey

 Know yourself

The most successful Leaders share certain qualities – they knew themselves well; they believed in lifelong learning; they wanted to be the best they could be; Identify and utilize all the resources you need to become a Leader.

  • Being an authentic leader
  • Building insight and self-knowledge
  • Developing leadership competencies

 Understand the organisation

Leaders at every level of the organisation must understand not just what the organisation’s is, but how it works, and how to leverage its people, resources, structures, and processes – both at the micro and macro levels.

  • understanding the technical and social context
  • Identifying what drives success
  • The need of knowing where one is really the best
  • Building passion

 Create vision

An organization can spend considerable time shaping the strategic intent based on their current mission (where they are) and future aspirational vision (where they want to be). Moreover, it will ultimately impact its allocation of resources and investments. The same can be applied to the Leader

  • Developing your personal vision
  • Articulate your values and mission
  • Communicate for buy-in
  • Linking your vision with the organization

 Strike balances

Balance is a range of things equally distributed. – the tightrope walker, the rope, balancing pole and the focus. In other words, the goal we are striving for and the factors that shape the journey; where all factors become inputs into delivering the Leadership result

  • Be a hero, inspire and help create and nurture other heroes
  • Understand your organisation and the context in which it operates
  • Take a holistic view
  • Create a balance sheet
  • Refer to the plan. Live, breathe and adapt where necessary

 Lead strategies

Planning, at any level, whether for us personally or for our organization, cannot be effective nor efficient without an overarching strategy or interrelated portfolio of strategies that are relevant to the circumstances at hand

  • Crafting a process for strategy development
  • Learning what to do, what not to so and what to stop doing
  • Implementing and adjusting to changing environments

 Make connections

Successful Leaders learn that there is a shift in gear from developing and refining their soft skills to an increased emphasis on who they know, and the ability to build and develop connections with others. These collectively become a network that is actively leveraged at the individual and group-wide levels

  • Creating win-wins for each connection
  • Continual proactive influencing for authentic partnerships
  • Sharing knowledge with your community

 Build trust

Trust is not a tangible thing in the practical sense of the word. Just like time, it is a concept that is vital to understand and manage if we are to be effective. Trust starts with trusting ourselves.

  • The road to building and maintaining trust
  • Creating a high-trust organization
  • Demonstrating reliability

 Facilitate change

Change is inevitable. We can help shape it by leading strategies, and we can chart detailed courses of action by planning journeys. We can ease the path of change for others affected by it by having an effective vision. But these are not sufficient. We must ensure that the changes undertaken are done so in ways that facilitate versus hamper their success.

  • Recognizing the need for proactive change
  • Avoiding change just for change sake
  • Recognizing reasons people resist change
  • Building your tool kit to reduce resistance to change
  • Developing a change management process

 Communicate messages

Communication is at the heart of everything we do and deliver, whether it is setting a vision, building and maintaining trust or shaping our personal brand. It influences everything that we represent and being an effective communicator is a key function that a Leader must master.

  • Creating engagement
  • Mastering Management By Walking About (MBWA)
  • Communicating through tools

 Foster innovation

The role of the Executive Leader was to create the strategic mandate, shape the environment and let the teams get on with it by standing out of their way and letting them innovate. They act as a catalyzer allowing innovation to flourish to allow the organization to adapt to change.

  • Innovating to provide value add
  • Shaping the organization through innovation
  • The role of the leader in creating an innovative culture

Cultivate passions

Passion whether personal or organisational unites and engages people both inside and out. When they deal with your people they want to know that a person is passionate about serving, adding value and creating a lasting experience based on the brand promise.

  • How to harness and manage my passion for the highest purpose
  • Identifying the passion with the team
  • Inspiring others to be passionate

 Grow leaders

Create the right environment, with the best ingredients and people will grow. Not only will they grow, they will thrive. The right environment will have some very basic elements, such as mutual trust, respect, being able to communicate honestly and being supported to be the best that you can be. After that thriving will depend upon the nature of your organisation, its values, beliefs, culture and the universe your organisation finds itself in.

  • Thriving or surviving
  • Position on the leadership life-cycle
  • Finding greatness in yourself
  • Acknowledging greatness in others
  • Seeking challenge and offering opportunity

Address politics

If you are to be effective as Leader, you must learn how to address politics proactively (as is also part of the ‘science of good sense’), to manage the politics ethically to smooth your journey rather than exploit it aggressively. If you do not, then those that you desire to lead will become disillusioned and your desired leadership will hence be ineffective.

  • Perceptions of organisational politics
  • Building alliances and networks
  • Contributing to constructive politics

Drive performance

Whilst individual and team performance is, in the main, a well-understood concept in most modern organisations, it is essential that Leaders develop an in-depth understanding of the performance of their organisation, and of the factors that drive performance within it.

  • Ensuring best practice in managing the performance of people
  • Building an effective performance measurement system
  • Driving the performance of the Executive Leadership team
  • Driving your personal performance as an Executive Leader

Brand you

A brand is, at its most fundamental, something which distinguishes a person, product, service or an organisation; it has an identity. It is much more complex because it is a promise of an experience that is personal in nature depending upon the perspective of the person having the experience. Personal and leadership branding are similar in philosophy to organisational branding, except people’s reputations are being managed, and you are trying to find ways to establish and demonstrate personal and leadership competitive advantage.

  • Understand branding and brands
  • Know your own brand values
  • Be aligned to the organisation’s brand values
  • Live the leadership brand


Developing Your Professional Services Capabilities

Professional services include a range of different occupations which provide support to businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. People working in professional services provide specialist advice to their clients, both internally and externally to their organization.

Professional services are critical to the success of the UK economy, representing 15% of UK GDP, 14% of employment and 14% of exports.”  Source:

In 2012, the U.S. professional services industry comprised about 760,000 firms with combined annual revenues of $1.5 trillion. The industry employed 7.8 million Americans.  Source:

Many individuals have embarked on enhancing and developing their technical abilities and competencies and have taken many courses focussed around gaining new insights and plugging technical gaps in their knowledge base.  All well and good but what about the other side of the scale?

  • The ability to work with productively with others
  • Understanding the business they work in and for
  • Managing their own productively and remain focused on outcomes
  • Becoming more commercially minded, without becoming a sales person
  • Identifying the needs of the customers, create win-wins and enhance mutual opportunities

These are some of the skills required to enhance individual capabilities, to increase their overall contribution to their organization.

I meet and have met many highly competent and technical individuals who are great when the emphasis is on their technical area of influence, but would struggle or find it difficult to operate and work with other stakeholders, contribute at team meetings, or simply operate effectively in front of customers.  These are important and necessary skills, often hidden and not as visible as the technical skills we often primarily focus on.

If I look at my own journey as a Professional, I spent my formative years focussing on my technical abilities (coding, project management, service delivery, stakeholder management etc.)  As my career progressed I moved into more roles that were primarily customer centric (both internally and externally) and had to develop a new range of skills that I learnt by reading books, trying new approaches, learning from mistakes.  I did my MBA in my 30s primarily to formalise my informal skill sets to increase and enhance my management and leadership abilities.

I am currently working on a new project where the PS Professional certification would have helped me in that journey, and believe it will help many individuals who want to enhance their overall skill set.

The certification focusses on five core areas, which when considered as a whole provides the overall offering a Professional can provide:

Athlete The foundations of being an Athlete are about being professional in how an individual present themselves and in what they do.  The key is the ability to plan and carefully prepare, combined with excellent time management skills.  There is a strong focus on both building and maintaining long-term influential relationships – both internally within the organization and externally with other stakeholders.

ExecutiveUnderstanding the nature of business is a key component to making a strong contribution.  There are a number of key components, which need to be understood and addressed which have an impact on the decisions a customer will make and on their direction as a business. For example, in addition to the important economic climate what are the social trends for that business? What are the effects of government and regulatory developments or what Innovations or technology trends will propel it? Do you understand the financial underpinnings of the organization?  Understanding the wider shaping factors is key and a real differentiator.

RainmakerA key goal is to make technical individuals more commercial and more sales oriented, even if they are not official sales people. The challenge with technical people is the need to be recognized as an expert, which leads to high level solutions, that a customer may not want need or are ready for.   This is at conflict with how you want to behave to develop effective outcomes with customers. The goal is to understanding what their business issues and drivers are and link them to something you can market and ultimately sell.

The secret to success is being really customer and sales oriented, with a true entrepreneurial spirit, a rainmaker (make rain where there isn’t any) who has earned the right to sell more.

AuthorityThe best professionals are experts in their particular field.  In essence, the Guru.

This is one of the most important aspects of developing and earning credibility, which can then be used to build trust.  People will judge an individual primarily on whether they know what they are talking about.  They will also be judged on how they demonstrate passion, a depth of knowledge, are able to tailor their message to the audience, have real credibility and are able to demonstrate it.

Catalyst The end game of any engagement is for the customer to get something implemented and eventually managed.  The biggest complaint customers have is that they were sold something that does not eventually work, or they had a very stressful time during the whole implementation process. The focus is to see things through the eyes of the customer and walk in their shoes. Understanding the operational environment, starting from the point of how something will operate, and reverse engineering the solution and associated activities to ensure that the customer experience is just as strong afterwards and during as it is at the beginning.

Creating the rounded Professional, one who has a strong technical background, balanced with the skills that this curricula provides, creates the professional of tomorrow.



Sustainability Applied to Global Working

I spend a lot of time working with companies that work in a global environment with front offices in one country and back offices in another.  They face day-to-day issues in achieving their tasks, such as: overcoming cultural nuances, time zones, communicating using existing technology and leading dispersed teams when travel budgets have been frozen.

These problems often stem from applying a co-located method of managing and leading a team to the virtual global world.  There are small and large differences and they need to be factored in to achieve agreed outcomes.  The reality is that often team members are communicating by email and in some instances, have no idea what the other team members key skills are, or in some instances what they even look like.

When you ask at a corporate level, why the organization operates globally you often hear the answer cost, as it is cheaper to offshore work to another country where the labor rates are lower than another country.  Global working is still in its infancy as a management science, and organizations are still learning about what works and what does not.  In the pursuit of lower costs, the long terms implications are often not considered and the question I ask, is whether this approach is sustainable?

If the real pursuit is cost, then yes a lower cost per employee, per hour discussion is relevant, and the gap between one country and another can be significant, but what about the long-term impacts?  What happens when a “low cost country” starts developing and the labor force experiences wage inflation?  If the cost savings are no longer viable, then will the maintain presence in that location?

Often companies will invest in training and developing their workforce, but the end result is that trained individuals, will leave and seek other opportunities, so the parent company suffers from significant churn rates, that means more time spent hiring people and training them.  This is certainly not sustainable, and works so long as there is a constant stream of eager applicants for jobs, but what happens if this runs out?  What are the options?  Focus on existing staff, or move to another country and start all over again.

As more and more companies offshore work, they are basically doing what others in their industry are currently doing.  All in the pursuit of reducing and controlling costs but what are the strategic implications of doing this?  If all organizations strategic intent is too offshore to reduce costs and increase profitability then this is not long-term sustainable and we are back to square one.

I encourage companies to consider the viability of their offshore models and think about the impacts from not just a short-term perspective, but a long-term sustainable solution that provides profit, growth and an environment that allows employees, regardless of where they are located to contribute and work seamlessly as a team.

Motivating Others

Motivation theory has been endlessly studied since the dawn of production systems in the early twentieth century.  There is one model that I use a lot though having not worked for a Premier League football team, am not sure if this would work there.

The approach is based on Hackman and Oldham’s five core job characteristic model (Hackman. J.R and Oldham, G.R Work Redesign. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. 1980):

If an individual or team are not motivated and you lead / manage them, consider if one of the following, is missing:

success-784357_1280.jpgSkill variety:  Individuals are motivated when they use their skills.  If you are trained, currently training, or have been trained, in a particular skill area, and do not get the opportunity to apply these new skills, then this will act as a potential de-motivator.  The issue we have in this large complex organisational setting, is whether we know all the skills and capabilities of individuals?  I was at a company where the person had spent over twenty years there.  Within that time, he must have taken countless courses and developed his skill set to no end, but where has this knowledge been captured and made available to others?  Now more individuals are placing information on Linkedin, but is the natural one place stop for the capture and dissemination of this information.  It boils down to this: if we do not know, how can we utilize the skill?

puzzle-308908_1280.pngTask identity: What is the visible outcome and can they link what they are doing to the bigger picture?  If you take a one thousand piece jigsaw set, and I give you a single piece and ask you what the big picture is, you will find it impossible to guess. The same applies to our work.  We need to know how our work contributes to the bigger overall picture of what we are all working together on as a team.  I worked with a project manager installing a large processing facility for the chemicals industry. Parts of the design work were done by teams located across the world far away from the actual physical installation.  So after we spoke about motivating the team, he started putting pictures of the plant as it was being assembled so that the design team could feel, in some small way, part of the overall project.

Task significance: Impact on others.  How does our work impact our stakeholders?  We often see our work through lenses but do not take the time to view it from the perspective of the user, the person who interacts and utilizes the product or service.  I have worked with a number of leaders within the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.  I was told a story of a unit that worked with children diagnosed with cancer.  The team was shaped by a lot of team infighting, and the leader became fed up and at a team meeting put a video on of a child suffering, which led to hush silence in the room and inevitable tears.  That event made the team realize the significance of what they were doing, and why they could not afford to not operate as a team.

Autonomy: The freedom to plan and undertake the task and avoid being micro-managed.  Smart people want macro-management not micro-management.  As a manager give the parameters of a delegated task: the resources, time constraints, the definition of success etc.  Then let the individual get on with it.  They may not take the route you would naturally take, but perhaps you can allow this so that they learn by doing. Smart people want smart management! See the work of Dan Pink on this.

Feedback: Clear information is provided on the task performance.  We all love feedback, feedback-1186347_1280.jpgbut what do we mean by it?  Often feedback is often inferred as being either + positive or – negative.  There is no such thing.  Feedback is what feedback is – an opportunity to learn or improve – that’s it.  So we should be able to take both + and – feedback and not infer this in a binary mode and actually view it as a way of continuous improvement.  But to provide feedback, and actually make it useful, we need to make sure that there is another layer in existence before we offer feedback.  Trust.  If there is no trust between the individuals then they recipient will not take the feedback in its true sense.

I have used this model across organisations and it helps to identify root cause issues of dem-motivated individuals and teams.


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!