virtual teams (when being a host is not enough)

Have you ever found yourself in this situation…

You are all set up in a meeting, you need to give an important update on a project, and gather some important feedback from the stakeholders in the room, you know the update could be a little controversial but that is why you organised the meeting, to get everyone’s full attention and buy in.  You start to address the attendees, but a few minutes into the update:

  • Bill from accounts gets his laptop out and starts typing an email
  • Sarah from Legal gets a call on her blackberry and picks up and answers the call
  • John from the project teams attention is distracted by a colleague at the meeting room window trying to get his attention, the colleague mouths “Are you in a meeting?”, John nods and but the colleague walks into the meeting and starts talking about another project.
  • Alison from HR pops out to the vending machine to get a drink
  • Tim from the project team starts to read an article from a recent Lilly newsletter
  • Jason the project sponsor sits at the end of the table with a poker face hiding his nonalignment with the update
  • Someone walks into the meeting room their face obscured, does not say anything and sits at the back of the room
  • Matt from the project team starts to breath really heavily which is drowning out your update
  • And Tracey from the project team starts to play the piano
  • All the while you blindly carry on with your update

So I ask again have you ever been in a similar situation?…No?…Welcome to the world of virtual teams

That scenario is unlikely to happen in a face to face meeting, with face to face meeting etiquette, most people don’t do other work in a meeting, most people don’t pick up another call, most won’t hold another meeting in a meeting, and most would not walk out to get a drink, or read a document not related to the meeting.  Likewise, if someone is not happy or clear with what you have said then you can often judge by their body language there is a problem, most people’s breathing (when a phone headset is to close to the persons mouth) does not dominate a meeting discussion and music (when a person on a call does on another phone line) is very unlikely to interrupt a meeting.

But in virtual meetings (conference calls) normal meeting conventions do not apply and do require a different behaviour from the Host.

  • On a virtual call as the host you need to act not so much as a meeting host, but more as a radio presenter.  By this I mean that you need to connect with the audience (participants) to get the most from them, you need to be leading the discussions and inviting people to speak ie “Andy, what is your opinion on…” you are actively trying to encourage engagement from the participants before the temptation of other work distracts them.
  • And most importantly because you cannot see the participant’s reactions to topics being discussed, you need to summarise more and ask clarifying questions ie “Are we in alignment with…”, “Are there any points people are not clear on?” or “Andy, do you understand your next actions?”
  • More often than not people on a virtual team may be from another country and so language becomes a big barrier you will need to deal with, this makes the earlier 2 points even more crucial
  • If your meeting has some people in the meeting room and some dialling in, then you must remember to not just focus on the people in the room.  I have seen many examples over the years where the people in a room just talk with each other, the pace of the discussions picks up, people don’t talk into the meeting microphones (so you can’t hear parts of the discussion ) and the callers get left out.  This problem is made worse if the caller is not a native speaker of the language the meeting is being held in.

A face to face meeting is the preferred method for project meetings, you generally get peoples full attention during that time, they are audibly and visually engaged in the discussion, in virtual teams on a call a person is generally only engaged with their ears and not their eyes which opens the doors to them being distracted and increases the likelihood of…multitasking.

My next post will look at some of the options that you have as a virtual team host to get better engagement form the virtual team using tools that you have been using for a long time but were not aware of some of their functionality.

Watch this space!…

This entry was posted in Humour, Lessons learnt, Opinion, Project management, Random thoughts, Training and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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