In order to run an effective virtual team meeting, there are a number of things you can do before, during, and after the meeting. So in this post, let’s look at what you can do to improve how you run virtual meetings.
What To Do Before a Virtual Meeting as a Manager
1. Rotate the role of meeting facilitator
This is to help everybody feel involved.
A meeting facilitator is the person who is in charge of:
- providing a clear agenda in a timely manner
- checking that the technical aspects of the meeting work
- making sure that every person who attends the meeting abides by the rules (for example, that they keep to the time limits if presenting)
- encouraging all participants to contribute.
So, a meeting facilitator makes sure that the meeting runs smoothly and that everybody contributes equally without some participants dominating the whole discussion.
Giving this responsibility to a different member of the team every time will help them feel involved.
2. Assign different members to lead parts of the session
This is also a strategy to give people more ownership of the meeting and reduce the likelihood of disengagement.
The person who leads a meeting is in charge of deciding the schedule of the meeting, the topics covered, and of starting the meeting. Usually, this person is the team leader.
It might be worth sometimes though delegating parts of the meeting to the team members, by letting them decide on a topic they want to cover and ask them to introduce the topic and explain to the rest of the team why it is important.
3. Correspond personally in advance with each member
Depending on the number of participants, you can write to them to check that they have received the documents and, at the same time, ask them if there is something, in particular, they want to discuss during the meeting.
You might also want to ask if they have any personal goals they want to achieve in the meeting and how they fit in with the team’s goals.
This is a strategy to engage their vested interest so that they are more likely to actively participate during the meeting.
4. Make everyone virtual
You should put everyone in the same position.
For example, if three people are located in the same room and three people connect virtually this is not an equal situation.
Those who are located in the same room will have an advantage in terms of ease in communicating with each other.
5. Establish the rotation order
Before the meeting, create a rotation order and send the list of participants and the rotation order before the meeting.
In other words, create a list of the order in which participants will speak or present.
This is a strategy to help participants know whose turn it is to speak and to give everyone an equal opportunity to speak.
6. Send the agenda and any reading materials ahead of time
If there are lots of things to cover or anything that involves reading materials (for the meeting), make sure to send participants a copy at least a day before the meeting.
This is so that participants can be prepared.
7. Agree on a virtual place to share files
This is to make communication and collaboration easier as everyone knows where the files are located and there is no room for confusion.
So, for example, decide that the documents pertinent to the meeting will all be saved in one of the team’s shared folders.
Specify the exact location of the folder and how sub-folders and files should be named. This way, everyone should be able to know where to find everything.
8. Plan for regular meetings with fixed dates.
This is to help with organization and time management.
If you are dealing with a virtual team whose members rarely meet in person, having regular meetings helps with maintaining a sense of connection.
It is important though that meetings are set at fixed dates in advance so that everybody knows how to schedule their time.
For example, you might want to set a team meeting once a week on a Tuesday morning, or once a month on the first Monday of the month, depending on what suits the team best.
9. Set times that are convenient for everyone or rotate times
If the difference in time zones is big, choose times that are convenient for all.
For example, if there are 5 hours difference, don’t set a meeting when it is 3 pm in one place and 8 pm in another.
It is better to set it so it is, for example, 9 am in one place and 2 pm in the other place.
If the time difference is, for example, 12 hours or if many different time zones are involved, it will be impossible to set a time that is good for everyone, so rotate the times in such a way that everyone has a chance to attend a meeting at some point.
10. Have a fallback plan in case something goes wrong with the technology
Technology can be unpredictable, so have a plan B in case something goes wrong, if at all possible.
So, for example, if one participant has problems with their internet connection, arrange it so that they can join the meeting using their phone (either the landline or using mobile data).
What to Do as a Manager During the Virtual Meeting
1. Set a limit to each member’s talking time to give everybody a chance.
This is useful to keep everyone engaged.
In a team, there are often people who talk a lot and dominate conversations and other people who can be a bit quieter.
By setting time limits to each participant’s interventions, it will stop some people from taking over the conversation.
2. Schedule time for informal conversation before or after the meeting.
If you are managing a virtual team, it might be hard for people to socialize and develop trust in each other.
Using a bit of time either at the start or at the end of virtual meetings for some informal conversation can help team members socialize.
3. Prompt participants for responses
This is a way to make sure that participants don’t get distracted during the meeting.
So, rather than waiting for people to intervene, sometimes ask a question to one person to hear their opinion.
Do not always ask questions to the same person though, ask different people every time.
4. Call participants by name at every opportunity
This is a good strategy not only to engage participants as they are more likely to pay attention if they hear their name but also to remind everybody else of who is present.
So, for example, when you are asking somebody a question use their name. Or, if you are summarising their intervention use their name to say, for instance, ‘Paul said so and so… what do you think, Mike?’
5. Check on members every so often
Ask individual participants what they think of an idea, for example. They will be more likely to pay attention if they know that they might be asked to contribute at any moment.
This point is similar to point number 3, except that you can ask questions or you can just repeat what they said and ask, for example, ‘Is that correct, Jean?’
6. Engage in dialogue rather than giving presentations
This is another way to keep participants active and awake.
If you start speaking for a length of time without trying to engage the other meeting participants, chances are that they will get distracted and bored. Instead, ask them questions regularly and ask for their opinions.
7. Shift focus between participants
Do not always address the same participants, but pay attention to everybody equally.
So, ask questions to different participants and make sure that everyone has a chance to speak.
8. Make sure everyone says hello at the start
This is so everybody knows who else is attending.
9. Be mindful of different language abilities
If you are a native speaker of the language in which the meeting is held, speak clearly and slowly and don’t use idioms that non-natives might not know.
10. Make clear which document, page number, and agenda item is being covered
This is useful to guide participants, so they know exactly what is being covered at any given time.
11. Focus transition between agenda items
When you are moving between one item and the other, make it very clear.
12. Verify understanding
Ask questions to make sure everyone understands.
13. Summarize and recap often
This is for clarity and in case someone got distracted and missed something.
14. Give a cue to the next participant when you have finished talking
This is particularly useful in virtual meetings as participants might not be able to see your body language clearly.
So, for example, agree on something you need to say when you have finished speaking, such as ‘Over to you…’
15. Keep to timing
Essential for teams whose time is precious. Assume a technology learning curve.
Be understanding and supportive if someone is using a tool for the first time. Also, allow more time at the start of the meeting to adjust, if you are trying out a technology that is new for everyone.
What to do as a Manager at the end of a virtual meeting
1. Provide a back channel for members to contact the chair separately
After the meeting, make sure participants are able to contact the chair individually in some way. For example, via email or instant messaging.
2. Participants must follow up and finish working on tasks they agreed during the meeting in the agreed timeline
This should be the case for every type of team but it is even more vital for virtual teams, as members work independently and on their own most of the time. This is to do with accountability.
3. Minutes should be sent to members shortly after
This is for everyone to keep a record and also to feel involved even after the meeting is over.
4. The action items should specify clearly who does what by when
This way there is no room for error and everyone is held accountable. Participants should review the minutes.
This is to do with involvement and empowerment so that everybody can have a say and point out if something is wrong or missing.
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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