Sometimes it seems meetings can be either a blessing or a curse. When they are well run, they can provide a productive path to making sound decisions and building a collaborative team. However, we have all been in too many meetings that were poorly planned and executed, leaving us wondering, “Why are we here?” or “Where is this going?” or even, “Did we really accomplish anything?”
Conducting an effective virtual meeting can be more challenging than participating in a face-to-face gathering, as team members face extra distractions when working remotely. A recent study by Microsoft (https://workplaceinsights.microsoft.com/workplace-analytics/the-rise-of-shorter-meetings-and-other-ways-collaboration-is-changing-with-remote-work) reviewed meeting results once its Modern Workplace Transformation team transitioned from the office to working from home. The number of meetings rose by 10%, with each employee on average taking part in three more meetings each week. Although the number of meetings lasting more than an hour fell by 11%, the total meetings lasting up to 30 minutes grew by 22% — and they occurred more frequently. Many of those remote meetings occurred over video collaboration platforms.
How can organizations run their virtual meetings more effectively to create the best outcomes? Here some basic tips to help keep online collaborations productive and engaging.
- Set a specific purpose. Why are we going to meet? What do we hope to accomplish? As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
- Create an agenda. Map out a game plan for what you will do in the meeting and how long it should take. Share the agenda with other participants in advance. If you want specific people to take on certain roles, note that within the agenda or make assignments ahead of time.
- Outline a facilitation approach. It’s not enough to say the group needs to make a decision; you also need to determine how you are going to decide. For example, members of a family might gather to decide where they will go on vacation this year. The purpose might simply be that they want to spend quality time together and grow closer. Their agenda might be summarized as, “Let’s evaluate different options for our next trip.” However, if the group does not adopt a facilitation approach to reach a conclusion, they might end up in a free-for-all with no clear consensus. They might end up with Mom or Dad overshadowing the wishes of the children and making an arbitrary decision. Their facilitation approach could include brainstorming techniques to make sure everyone’s ideas are heard. They may need a method to evaluate those suggestions against certain criteria, such as aligning the trip with the family budget. An effective facilitation approach ensures that everyone participates and helps contribute to a positive outcome.
- Select technology that supports your approach. If you plan to brainstorm, for example, make sure you have the right tools and technology to brainstorm effectively. A virtual collaboration platform can provide the ideal tools to facilitate such activities as brainstorming, decision-making, or reaching consensus.
- Plan the pre- and post-meeting work. Determine what needs to be done ahead of time to ensure the meeting is as effective as possible, as well as what should be done afterwards. Assign action items for tasks to be done after the meeting with deadlines. Be clear about how you will close out the meeting, such as how information about discussions and recommendations will be distributed.
- Follow up on action items. Make sure the people who are accountable for tasks complete them in a timely manner. Following up effectively closes the loop on outstanding issues and helps ensure that the purpose of the meeting has been fully achieved.
When you align the intended outcomes of your virtual meeting through careful planning, execution, and follow-through, you can improve the effectiveness of your meetings.