Meet “Peter”, Services Director of a software company doing multi-million dollar implementations all over the US. His teams will need to meet for calibration every week to brain storm, solve issues, and to simply build rapport. Easy, just put them all in one room to discuss matters over buckets of coffee. Sure, but the thing is, the project management team is located in the US, the design team is located in India, the programmers are located in China, and the support team is located in Manila. What now? Back in the Dark Ages, the only way this collaboration could have happened was via email. But that means delayed responses, and worse, emails are subject to interpretation and the message sometimes gets lost in translation.
Managers used to schedule face to face meetings at least once a month and one representative from each team flies to a common venue. Imagine how much money Peter would have to spend and the time wasted on travel. Thankfully, with the dawn of advanced virtual technology, web conferencing is born. With both time and travel costs saved, virtual meetings have become essential in almost all industries.
At virtual team meetings, the teams do not come face to face, so how does Peter know if everyone in the team pays attention? How does he make sure that these meetings actually DO build rapport within the team? A team member could keep attending these virtual meetings for weeks and just be sitting there, logged in but actually just busy with Facebook for one full hour while Peter blabbers away. Or still be oblivious to the existence of another member from the other side of the globe. So what is the point of having virtual meetings, then?
Here are 9 ways you can enhance your regularly scheduled web conferences so everyone in the team participates and pays attention. These ideas are especially effective for a big team.
- Give every single team member a chance to facilitate the meeting
If Peter does most of the talking all the time, chances are, he might lose the participants 10 minutes into the meeting. The rest of the team might get too familiar with him speaking that it becomes a lull after a while (or may even sound like a sermon) and may start tuning him out as soon as he talks.
What he can do is assign the meeting facilitation on rotation. If the team has a number of members per location, each location will have their own rotation too. Come up with a list of all team members (and that includes management!) and follow the rotation in the same order.
The member’s first time to facilitate should always start with an introduction – a 1 liner intro, his location, position, etc.
As a facilitator, the team member should also be in charge of the agenda. This way they get to communicate with the rest of the team beforehand to ask if anyone has something to discuss.
- Give each member a chance to do a presentation
Require each team member to give a 5-10 minute presentation (using screen sharing tools) at least once. Think about what theme of topics your team can benefit from. Possible themes:
- Sharing of best practices – about anything that relates to their jobs like MS Powerpoint hacks, soft skills, etc.
- Actual challenges they faced and how they got over them
- Tips and tricks for an application commonly used by the team
This would probably be scheduled less frequently, so if the meeting is weekly, the presentations should be done monthly. Follow the rotation list.
The team might be surprised at what they can learn from each other. The manager can start the ball rolling, and one good topic to start with is the “Do’s and Don’ts of Video Conferencing Etiquette”.
- Use Visuals
Encourage each speaker to share visuals as much as possible. Always remember that visuals grab and KEEP participants’ attention more than just speaking.
- New Hire Introduction
Every time there is a new hire, the Manager should include his introduction as part of the agenda. Give the newbie a minute or two to say something about him- or herself.
- Use Meeting Rooms instead of individual desks
This applies only if each location has more than one staff. Set meeting rooms up to allow web conferencing (include webcams if possible). Let everyone in the same location gather in the meeting room instead of logging in on their individual desks.
This prevents temptations to multi-task during the conference call. When team members respond to emails and browse the net during a meeting, the meeting is an absolute failure and a waste of time and money.
- Go “around the table”
If there are only a few participants (say, 7), it is OK to go “around the table” to get everyone’s thoughts. Ask open ended questions like “what do you think of this idea?” or “how do you think this idea will help us or break us?”
On the other hand, when there are more than 10 participants, the speaker can ask specific questions to a specific group or individual whom you think may have some inputs on the matter. For example, if you are in the process of brainstorming for cost effective methods of providing short training sessions to your clients, you can ask questions like “Sarah, I remember you conducted several virtual trainings for [client] before, how did that work out for them?”
- Be mindful of time zones
It may be 10am your time, but it could be someone’s lunch break or Friday night. Make sure to know what all the teams’ time zones are.
- Assign note takers on rotation
Meeting minutes are not to be forgotten especially for web/phone conferences. Based on the same list of participants, assign a different person to prepare and distribute meeting minutes each time. In the hundred and one virtual meetings I attended, aside from writing the minutes, note takers are often a sure-fire way that at least one person in the meeting will ask to clarify when no one dares to ask.
- Use the right web conference tools
All these strategies will be more effective with the use of the right web conference tools. Make a list of all the required features then do a research on the tool that’s a right fit. (For more tips on tools, check out 35 tools for remote teams)