Guest blogger Janice Belgreden is a seasoned virtual meeting facilitator. Her virtual meetings make everyone feel like it’s important that they are there (and it is!). Janice recently came on board as an instructor for the Journey of Facilitation and Collaboration (JOFC).
Have you ever facilitated a virtual meeting where you felt like your biggest job was to tame a beast that had nothing to do with the meeting’s actual goals? I have, and the whole experience was angst-producing. Some of the issues? Technology glitches caused frustration and outside distractions were common. Making connections between team members was difficult and participants were hesitant to actively engage. I found myself putting all my energy into juggling management of the technology, the agenda and the participants and then forgetting to tune into what was going on in me. The disorientation I felt when things went wrong ended up impacting my whole team.
I finally realized that I couldn’t afford the wasted time and lost opportunities resulting from unproductive and unsatisfying virtual experiences. Looking at virtual meetings through the four quadrant lens of the Integral Model of Facilitation as taught in JOFC, helped me identify some straightforward, effective solutions for addressing my challenges head-on. (The Integral Model requires attention to the four quadrants of self-awareness, task, group culture, and group process.) I realized that the secret is not in taming the beast, but in befriending it – leaning into the realities of the meeting format and working earnestly with those realities. Here’s what I’ve found to be the most essential components of a four-quadrant approach to virtual meeting facilitation:
Check out these additional facilitator tips for more ideas about how to use the Integral Model of Facilitation before, during and after your virtual meetings:
Before the Meeting – Build a culture of responsibility and engagement
Set the stage ahead of time for a collaborative group effort:
- Provide access to the meeting agenda; invite co-creation by the team;
- Share background information and handouts so that participants have time to process before the meeting;
- Invite people to share a photo if the technology allows—pictures of people with their pets are always popular;
- Consider participants’ different time zones in scheduling.
Make the technology work for everyone:
- Provide meeting invitations and access instructions that link directly to individual calendars;
- Experiment with the functionality available in order to maximize your options;
- Test the technology and rehearse ahead of time – whenever you will be using something new;
- Devise a Plan B in case of malfunctioning technology;
- Consider using a technology-focused co-facilitator;
- Provide a phone number for technical difficulties (but not your number);
- Encourage use of video as well as audio; advocate access to upgraded technology for those without reliable video capability;
- Give yourself enough time to prepare mentally and physically just before the meeting starts.
During the Meeting – Focus on task and promote active participation
Be Self Aware:
- Tune into your emotions about leading a meeting in virtual format; utilize strategies that will promote your own comfort and confidence.
Maintain an attitude of hospitality:
- Open the meeting a few minutes early and greet participants as they arrive;
- Ensure that all participants’ real names are displayed on screen;
- Include a brief check-in with participants at the start of every meeting (so that everyone speaks);
- Do process checks during the meeting to ensure that individual needs are being met;
- Remain open to different needs and expectations within multi-cultural groups.
Use communication agreements:
- Let the group establish a set of behavior standards for working together;
- Keep the agreement alive by reviewing it at each meeting.
Keep the group actively engaged:
- Maintain group focus by being explicit when asking questions and providing directions–with fewer visual cues available in virtual meetings, precise verbal communication is crucial;
- Check in with participants regularly to ensure understanding and invite questions;
- Assign tasks across participants to keep them active;
- Use frequent polls or multiple choice questions to engage;
- Pay attention to who is contributing and invite quieter participants into the conversation;
- Don’t assume that silence is assent; seek feedback from all participants when decisions are made;
- Remember to include breaks.
Use the agenda as a guide:
- Commit to following the agenda and call out deviations when they must occur; make sure everyone knows what’s changing;
- Use the agenda to get back on track, especially when circumstances challenge participant attention.
Include formative evaluation as a standing agenda item:
- Briefly reflect on meeting process and technology; talk about what needs to stop/continue/start and then be open to change.
After the Meeting – Reinforce a culture of responsibility and engagement
Promote continued collaboration and commitment:
- Distribute minutes, action steps and assignments quickly – this can alleviate gaps in understanding that participants may have experienced during the meeting;
- Incorporate feedback about meeting process and technology when planning next steps.
Combined F2F & Virtual Meetings
It is becoming more and more common to have both a face-to-face group and another virtual group in the same meeting. For the virtual group, place their name tents close to the microphone as a reminder that they are there. Ask one of the virtual participants to be the facilitator for the virtual group to help them participate in break-out sessions or to answer questions.
Many strategies for successful virtual meetings are similar to those for face-to-face meetings. The benefits of these strategies for improving meeting outcomes are enormous when working virtually.