May 31, 2012 13 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Actively Listen (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- How to Get a Promising Meeting to Fail (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- The Role of Session Leader (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- How to Facilitate Requirements Gathering (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- How to Analyze Brainstorming Input (continued) (facilitativeleadership.wordpress.com)
- 11 Ways That Active Listening Can Help Your Relationships (psychologytoday.com)
- Are you really listening? It can make a difference to your career (business.financialpost.com)