How to Facilitate Virtual Meetings: Teleconference and VideoPresence (Part 3 of 3—Conclusion)


Core facilitation skills apply to both face-to-face and virtual meetings,  With teleconference or videopresence meetings, the session leader must speak clearly, provide active listening (especially feedback and confirmation), ask appropriate questions, manage time constraints and personality issues, etc.  Our discussion that follows below and in the previous two  blogs, focus on what is different with virtual meetings.

Purpose

Same time access across multiple locations require may require distributed or electronic meetings, also known as virtual meetings.  With the use of supplemental tools, virtual meetings can also satisfy the dual condition that demands meetings at different times and in different locations.

Rationale

Virtual meetings are used to save travel money or allow for remote participation.  While fine for review and sharing, they should be avoided at kickoffs, phase gate reviews, when consensus is critical, the issues are contentious, or the situation demands high-quality decision-making.

Method

The following suggestions summarize and offer up the differences between face-to-face versus distance meetings.  Remember that active listening is always critical to effective facilitation and it is very tough to provide feedback and obtain solid confirmation without eye contact and observations around the room.

Preparing to Wrap

Throughout, emphasize reflection and confirmation of content that is offered up. All too frequently, virtual participants are distracted and do not capture as much the first time as they do when meeting face-to-face. Summarize, summarize, summarize . . . a clear group is typically an oxymoron.

  • Offer each participant an opportunity for final/ closing comments. Consider “PASS” or “Just Three Words” for example. “What three words describe your experience with today’s meeting?”
  • Review next steps, assignments, and deadlines as appropriate.
  • Use FAST wrap-up and Guardian of Change as appropriate.
  • Summarize the virtual meeting and end by confirming the 
next call appointment commitment.
  • Use the FAST evaluation form to improve subsequent calls. A “Plus/ Delta” can be completed at the conclusion of each call.
  • Distribute notes within hours after the meeting and emphasize the follow-up steps and responsibilities in your email cover note.

Video/ Telepresence

Some of the differences afforded when meeting with visual feedback, especially higher quality resolution video, suggest the following:

  • Clothing; for example, stripes or patterned shirts are not recommended during a videoconference and may not display well at the remote site(s). Plain colored shirts and pants/ skirts are optimal. Also, avoid wearing white and red.
  • Restrict movement as much as possible. Excessive movements are disruptive to viewers at the far site.
  • Have a back up plan for your meeting or class in the event of connection failures or equipment problems.

From Global Work Groups to Global Teams

Here are some techniques that may be helpful in creating commitment and facilitating communication among work groups that are widely separated by geography.

Frequent Integration

Very often, a work group is made up of several small teams, each in a separate location. To be successful, the teams must use nested synchronization, integrating their efforts frequently. Regular and frequent integration has many benefits, from establishing mutual commitment to creating a common repository of knowledge.

Exchange People

All too often we find that a team in one country has all of the necessary technical capabilities, but their “requirements” come in large batches of written documents developed many time zones away.  Predictably, when an application is finished several weeks or months after the arrival of the requirements, it isn’t what the customers really wanted. Large separations between customers or analysts and the implementation team—with over-the-wall communication—seldom works very well. One way to deal with this situation is to locate a couple of people from one team on the other team for extended periods of time, preferably on a rotating basis. Either a couple of team members that understand customers should be located with the development team, or alternatively, a couple of people who are part of the development team should be located with those who understand the customers. Rotating people through these positions is effective.

Proxy

Some successful dispersed teams communicate through a single person. Someone from a remote site becomes a member of a core team and serves as a proxy for the remainder of the remote team. Every day this person assumes responsibility for a large amount of well-defined work and sends it to the remote team, calling them each day to describe what needs to be done, answer questions, and retrieve completed work. Thus, the remote team maintains rich communication with one person on the core team, and the core team considers the remote team an extension of this proxy, who can take on work for several people.

Traveling Leader

Consider an oobeya or “war room” with big visible charts showing project status and issues. The status charts can be maintained identically in each of multiple rooms around the world. The program leader can travel from one room to another, holding regular status meetings at each location. The other locations may call in to the meetings, and renew the mutual commitment of all teams to their common objective.

Caution

When part of a team must work using a second language while other team members use their first language, or when one group is a subcontractor while the other is part of the contracting company, or when one group clearly has higher pay or status than the other, people can easily get the perception that one group is “better” than the other. Such perceptions will quickly destroy the respect, trust, and commitment that are essential for true teamwork.

Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

How to Facilitate Virtual Meetings: Teleconference and VideoPresence (Part 2 of 3—During/ Real Time)


Core facilitation skills apply to both face-to-face and virtual meetings,  With teleconference or videopresence meetings, the session leader must speak clearly, provide active listening (especially feedback and confirmation), ask appropriate questions, manage time constraints and personality issues, etc.  Our discussion that follows below and in the previous/ next  blog, focus on what is different with virtual meetings.

Purpose

Same time access across multiple locations require may require distributed or electronic meetings, also known as virtual meetings.  With the use of supplemental tools, virtual meetings can also satisfy the dual condition that demands meetings at different times and in different locations.

Rationale

Virtual meetings are used to save travel money or allow for remote participation.  While fine for review and sharing, they should be avoided at kickoffs, phase gate reviews, when consensus is critical, the issues are contentious, or the situation demands high-quality decision-making.

Method

The following suggestions summarize and offer up the differences between face-to-face versus distance meetings.  Remember that active listening is always critical to effective facilitation and it is very tough to provide feedback and obtain solid confirmation without eye contact and observations around the room.

Proper Launch

Getting and keeping people involved and productive will take a concerted effort on your part from start to finish.  Most importantly, get off to a good start by setting a good example:

  • As the facilitator, login first and early.
  • If possible, provide an electronic sign-in sheet that participants must update if they need to leave the meeting (even if only for a short period of time).
  • Greet each person as they come online and assign a ROLL CALL sequence for sound-off (eg, someone drops off  and you hear the ‘three beeps’).
  • Introduce each arrival to subsequent arrivals.
  • Establish and enforce protocol of announcing name (could be nickname) when taking a turn speaking. The ideal protocol may be “last name only” as no verbs or prepositions are required.
  • Provide ground rules and roles as appropriate.
  • Constantly remind participants where you are in the process.
  • Provide a clear end and smooth transition for each step in the agenda as you make progress.

Primary Differences Contrasted with Face to Face Meetings

Use your intuition.  Since you cannot rely on non-verbal feedback (unless using high-resolution video), be firm but flexible.

  • Use people’s names to get their attention.
  • Break-up long stretches of one speaker.
  • When appropriate, go “around to circle” for inclusive participation.  Use the roll call sequence built earlier.
  • Consider “break-out sessions” where two or more get off the main call, call each other(s), and then get back on the session bridge to share their results.
  • For decision-making processes, restate or repeat key issues as they are honed down to a decision point.
  • When possible, use internet-based collaboration tools to create shared electronic notes, flip charts, Mimio, etc. When appropriate allow “side chats” and “ breakouts” to accelerate participant contributions.

Communicating

While also applicable in face-to-face meetings, the likelihood of engaging multiple cultures in a virtual meeting is increased.  Therefore be reminded and reinforced about the “Deadliest Sins of International Misunderstanding” (see “Do’s and Taboos Around the World”).

  • Grammar—remember to facilitate and to stop processing the content.  Someone needs to be listening and that is the role of the facilitator.  Generously paraphrase if necessary to ensure that all participants capture meaning from their perspective.  Document and distribute your notes quickly after meetings to solicit corrections.  Accept the blame for any misunderstandings.  Never interrupt; rather, use active listening to correct for imprecise word or grammar choices.
  • Jargon—likened to a tongue without a brain, avoid “interface” in favor of “work together.”  Police carefully, such as “shotgun approach” and “on the same wave length.”
  • Local color—from idioms to accents, people need to slow down their rate of speech, enunciate clearly, and project a bit louder.  Everyone should avoid local idioms such as “Don’t make waves.”
  • Officialese—your particular concern here ought be acronyms or what many people call acronyms (technically, an acronym needs to spell an actual word).  Even basic English abbreviations may not be understood by everyone, such as “P & L.”  Groups are never too clear, so be certain to use active listening to provide a fuller, clearer reflection of what is being stated.
  • Slang—in Islamic and Buddhist cultures, a simple “thank God” may be considered blasphemous unless meant piously.  Avoid even simple comments that lack clarity such as “go for it”.
  • Vocabulary—don’t forget after providing reflection to confirm that everyone seemingly understands what has been stated.  If you sense that someone is holding back, consider a roll call approach to have each person interpret how the new content affects them.

Capture the Work

With the few exceptions noted, most of the FAST technique is immediately transferrable to the virtual world.  Some additional differences in the video-presence mode are shown below:

  • Before bio-breaks, insert a quick “Plus/ Delta” and ask for immediate feedback.
  • Enforce “Silence or Absence is Agreement” but solicit one-by-one responses for highly critical decisions.
  • If you don’t want to ask each person to respond to a general query (“do you understand the new procedure?”), ask questions so that silence implies consent, and remind them to speak up if “they can’t sleep at night” with the outcome.
  • The larger the group, the more your session leadership skills need to keep people from dominating each virtual meetings

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Related articles

 

How to Facilitate Virtual Meetings: Teleconference and VideoPresence (Part 1 of 3—Preparation)


Core facilitation skills apply to both face-to-face and virtual meetings,  With teleconference or videopresence meetings, the session leader must speak clearly, provide active listening (especially feedback and confirmation), ask appropriate questions, manage time constraints and personality issues, etc.  Our discussion that follows below and in the next two blogs, will focus on what is different with virtual meetings.

Purpose

Same time access across multiple locations require may require distributed or electronic meetings, also known as virtual meetings.  With the use of supplemental tools, virtual meetings can also satisfy the dual condition that demands meetings at different times and in different locations.

Rationale

Virtual meetings are used to save travel money or allow for remote participation.  While fine for review and sharing, they should be avoided at kickoffs, phase gate reviews, when consensus is critical, the issues are contentious, or the situation demands high-quality decision-making.

Method

The following suggestions summarize and offer up the differences between face-to-face versus distance meetings.  Remember that active listening is always critical to effective facilitation and it is very tough to provide feedback and obtain solid confirmation without eye contact and observations around the room.

Collaboration Considerations

When selecting meeting type, mandatory considerations include:

  • Geographical distance
  • Organizational differences
  • Team size
  • Time zone differences

Some of the softer and subjective factors include:

  • Cultural differences
  • Goal interdependence
  • Multi-tasking expectations
  • Social factors
  • Team size
  • Technical skill
  • Type and mix of communications
  • Work histories

Mirrored Factors

The aspects that support virtual meetings frequently mirror the justification for hosting face-to-face meetings and workshops:

Warning

Do not trade analog dollars for digital cents.  In other words, expect virtual meetings to take as much as four times longer to accomplish the same amount of work when conducted face-to-face for the following reasons:

  • Effective facilitation may be more critical in virtual meetings since there is no opportunity to “help” the participant without speaking up directly.
  • Participants stay more fully engaged when they can observe and “feel” the non-verbal clues and intonations.
  • Thirty to sixty percent of meaning is communicated or expressed outside of the words that are used.
  • With English as a second, third, or fourth language—do not assume that everyone is hearing or understanding the same meaning or intent.

Seating Charts

Seating charts (also known as roll calls) are indispensable and will be used frequently during virtual meetings.  Assign a sequence to everyone as they join the meeting.

Tell them where they are sitting at the U-shaped table so that they create a mental picture of the room and their orientation to the other participants.  You can use this roll call sequence to capture quick or final comments, formal or informal voting, and even to help determine if everyone is present.  As mentioned later, enforce a protocol for identifying the speaker in your “virtual” room.

Purpose/ Agenda

Experts all agree that clear thinking is the most important item behind successful virtual meetings.  Be well-prepared and bring the participants with you so there is no doubt what needs to be accomplished over the course of the meeting.

Other preparation considerations include:

  • Assign people different roles such as note-taker, time-keeper, “guardian” of unanswered questions, etc.
  • Communicate in local time, or how to calculate local time, when sending virtual meeting announcements.
  • Discuss the agenda, expectations, and subject-matter preparations with participants prior to the call.
  • Include the dial-in number, pass-codes, and attendance list.
  • Inform participants about the files or website that should be open and available.
  • Make arrangements as to how participants will be informed about changing meeting arrangements or instructions.
  • Send participant package (ie, background documents), management perspective (ie, team charter), and simple agenda in advance.

Scheduling

Invest heavily in scheduling and preparation since you cannot rely on your ‘good looks’ when meeting in a distributed mode:

  • Allow for extra time.  An hour in a virtual meeting will not accomplish as much as an hour in a face-to-face meeting.
  • Consider providing a map with photographs of the participants around their location on the map along with their time zone.  Distribute to the group or publish to a team site.
  • Consider special arrangements for hearing-impaired participants (TTY, simultaneous transcriptions, etc).
  • Consider the impact of volume of comments on time available when building the agenda.  If everyone on a ten person call provides input on a specific issue, and comments on average two minutes each, you can complete only two issues per hour (in addition to your introduction and guardian of change).

Etiquette and Quality

While the some of the following reflects common sense, it’s your role as process policeman to enforce the standards:

  • Avoid cell or low-quality wireless phones.  Cell phones should be put on mute when not speaking.
  • Avoid paper rustling and other office noise.
  • Be aware of the impact of accents and slow down pace and tempo.
  • Consider body stretching exercises before and during the session.
  • Decide how to reach each other if a technical problem arises.
  • Do not permit multitasking. Remind people to “Be Here Now” and note any keyboard sounds. Speak with the violators after the tele-meeting so that you do not embarrass them.
  • Encourage the use of quality headsets to avoid poor sound.
  • Keep the conversation low-key and control the pace (tempo).
  • Offer bio-breaks every hour.
  • Relax and control your own breath.
  • Speak clearly and slightly slower than normal.
  • Test to make certain that everyone can hear each other clearly.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

How to Facilitate a Consensual Sphere of Concern, Influence, and Control Using the Bookend Method


The single most important responsibility of a facilitator is to protect the people or meeting participants.  The next most challenging responsibility however is to to make it easy for a group to focus on one issue at a time.

It can be helpful to separate a discussion into the aspects about which the group can control, aspects that it may influence, and aspects about which it has not control or significant influence.  Since groups seldom perform effectively using a linear approach, consider using a “Book End” approach for an activity like the consensual sphere.  Following are the steps required that can be applied to most situations, including prioritizing a list of criteria.

Concern Influence Control

Concern Influence Control

Scope creep kills projects.  It also kills meetings.  The consensual sphere helps a group become mindful of aspects that could alter the groups attitudes, beliefs, and decisions.  It helps a group to focus, on one group at a time, or one aspect at a time.

BOOKEND METHOD

Purpose

Effective facilitators shy away from working lists in a linear fashion.  The purpose with the use of bookends is to develop a natural habit of squeezing the grey matter towards the middle, rather than wasting too much time on it.

Rationale

Groups tend to argue about grey matter that frequently does not affect the decision anyway.  For instance, with PowerBalls, you can envision some participants arguing whether something is more important than moderate yet less important than high.  We know from experience that high criteria drives most decisions, so bookends helps us identify the most important stuff quickly.

Method

After you have compiled a list of criteria or aspects, compare and contrast different items with the simple process explained below:

  • Ask “Which of these is the most important?” (as defined by the PowerBalls displayed).  With the consensual sphere, our question would be “Which of these is within our control?”
  • Next ask “Which of these is the least important?”  With the consensual sphere, our question would be “Which of these is a concern because it is beyond our control?”
  • Then return to the next most important . . .
  • And to the next least important . . .
  • Until the list has been squeezed into the remaining one- third that is moderate..
  • If comparing or contrasting, consider asking . . .
    • Which is most similar?
    • Which is least similar?
    • Repeat until one-third remain as moderate.
  • For discussions consider asking . . .
    • What is your greatest strength?
    • What is your greatest weakness?
    • Repeat until one-third remain as moderate.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Rhetorical Precision and Clear Communications


“Enron’s document-management policy simply meant shredding.  France’s proposed solidarity contribution on airline tickets is a tax.  The IMF’s relational capitalism is corruption. The British solicitor-general’s evidentiary deficiency was no evidence, and George Bush’s reputational problem just means he was mistrusted.”   — Economist,  (Blog, July 7, 2010)

Word choice is most often used to solve for expressing intent.  Yet, many of our languages are dynamic.  Between 1590 and 1610 alone, 6,000 new words were added every year to the English language.

Language is both an instrument and an environment:

  • Some words do not survive
  • Others mutate into existence (eg, Google, when used as a verb)

Unlike French or Italian, English is not a fixed or static language.  The meanings of English words are “not established, approved, and firmly set by some official committee charged with preserving its dignity and integrity.”  The English language is renowned for its “capacity for foxy and relentlessly slippery flexibility.”

The English language in particular represents a mashing of words from most major languages, for example:

National Origin Term Original Meaning
Greek Criterion Means of judgement
Latin Fact An act or feat
Italian Ditto Already said
Malaysian Amok Rushing in a frenzy
Persian Caravan Traveling company
Turkish Kiosk Pavilion
Dutch Cruise To cross
Hindi Guru Weighty grave
Cantonese Ketchup Tomato juice
Arabic Sofa Seat
Japanese Shogun General
Gaelic Trousers Pattern of drawers
North America Herstory Female perspective
Mayan Hurricane Mayan god, Huracan

The English language is particularly rich because it has been provided with a heritage of diversity—a basis in many languages.  Three in particular provide the frequent opportunity to use a synonym, or a word that means something similar.  Unfortunately, a synonym does not imply pure equivocation, and group consensus building may be challenged by the similar, yet different meaning of terms borrowed from Anglo-Saxon, French, and Latin/ Greek origins as shown in the following chart.

Anglo-Saxon French Latin/ Greek
Ask Question Interrogate
Dead Deceased Defunct
End Finish Conclude
Fair Beautiful  Attractive
Fast Firm Secure
Fear Terror Trepidation
Help Aid Assist
Time Age Epoch

Dictionaries alone are insufficient because they provide a description of what something has meant and not a prescription of what it should mean.  There are eight parts of speech in the English language (not true for all languages).  The parts of speech explain what a word is, but not how it is being used. The only way to distinguish among the various meanings of words is from looking at the usage, or context.  In language the context is provided by grammar.

Single terms, without comprehensive context, can challenge people.  The word “occurrence” caused nearly $5.0BN of risk for the insurance companies of the World Trade Center Towers since the buildings were insured per “occurrence.”  Even the term “country” is a surprisingly difficult term to define.  US Homeland Security offers 251 choices for the “country where you live” but that number is not agreed to by other countries.  The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, for example, has only two buildings in Rome but has diplomatic relations with over 100 countries.  The Vatican is only 4 hectares in the middle of Italy’s capital and is but is only an observer at the United Nations.  Israel joined the world body in 1949, but 19 of the 192 United Nations members do not accept the Jewish state’s existence.  One-third of UN members recognize Kosovo, but not the UN itself.  Your organization may have similar cultural differences when defining the term “customer.”

Oddly, context alone does not ensure consensual meaning since the English language includes contronyms, or words that mean the opposite of themselves, in context.  For example, “to bolt” can mean to fix securely or to run away; or, “to clip” that can mean to fasten or to detach, etc. Context and standards help dictate common usage and enable us to arrive at a framework where all the participants share common meaning.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Related articles

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,779 other followers