With the increasing challenges of global competition and shifting market demands, virtual teams are finding it essential to effectively manage meetings anywhere and anytime. Fast-changing technology has provided project managers with tools to facilitate constant communication. Whether it is Skype or other conference technologies over mobile devices, it is well accepted that conducting meetings now transcends geographic boundaries.
However, conducting virtual meetings among any number of colleagues who are physically separated, working remotely and representing multiple agendas and cultures provides additional challenges. Because of this, it can be difficult for virtual meetings to achieve their intended goals or to be considered an “amazing success.”
The Potential of Virtual Teams
As someone who has made it my life’s work to explore global environments and effective behaviors of Virtual Teams, I understand that teams, virtual or otherwise, are formed to fulfill an important need, often to secure a powerful competitive advantage.
While Virtual Teams offer many advantages, the lack of in-person interaction creates its own set of issues. Perhaps the most critical one is the difficulty in maintaining clear, concise communication among virtual team members. Connection is the lifeblood of organizations, and without a human connection to facilitate communication, virtual teams cannot achieve optimum performance. This applies to virtual meetings in the form of both conference and video calls.
10 Strategies to Make Your Virtual Meetings Successful
The good news is that you can follow specific actions to improve the effectiveness of virtual meetings. As the meeting leader or facilitator, you can follow these 10 proven tips to make your virtual meetings successful.
1. Assign virtual meeting roles.
The facilitator of the meeting does not always have to be the person who calls the meeting, although it often is. The facilitator should be skilled in group dynamics and cross cultural and language appreciation, as well as asking relevant questions and managing time. Assign a note-taker and time-keeper for your virtual meetings and consider rotating the roles among team members.
2. Send out the agenda in advance.
3. Begin with the end result.
State the objectives at the onset of the call so participants are aware of the desired end results for this meeting.
4. Use ground rules.
Decide on ground rules in advance of the meeting, and remind participants of them.
These can be as simple as:
Make sure that callers says hello and introduce themselves.
Say your name each time you speak.
Use your mute button to eliminate background noises.
Focus your comments and keep them short.
5. Engage the team around the virtual meeting process.
Pause halfway through the meeting to check in with participants about the meeting process. Ask them what’s going well and what needs to change and incorporate this feedback into the second half of the meeting. Checking in halfway allows the facilitator to adjust before the end of the meeting. Engage participants again at the end of the meeting and apply this feedback to future meetings.
6. Protect self-esteem by ensuring that everyone is treated with respect.
Facilitators should model respectful behavior to meeting participants. Help meeting participants establish specific ground rules such as “respect each other” and “listen without judgment.” When a small group of people dominates the discussion or has side conversations, remind them of the shared ground rules and refocus the conversation.
7. Intervene immediately if you believe things are running off track.
Gently and firmly intervene if a participant is off-topic or acting out of sync with the ground rules. For example, say, "Thanks, Jean, for making that point. Let's note it for later since it's not part of today's agenda." or, “Jason, let’s let Michael finish the point before responding to it. Thank you.”
8. Be sure to get everyone involved to maximize the entire group's input.
Ask yourself, “Is this meeting necessary, or could the discussion be replaced by email?” If you decide the meeting is necessary, make sure it’s an interactive experience for everyone. This is more difficult when participants are connecting through technology. Keep track of who is actively engaged, and draw silent individuals into the discussion.
9. Debrief at the end of the virtual meeting.
Ask team members whether they found the meeting valuable and what they want to Stop/Start/Continue. See how well the meeting matched your agenda and intended outcomes. Conclude the call by summarizing, confirming decisions and reiterating next steps.
10. Assess the effectiveness of the virtual meeting and make adjustments for next time.
Evaluate what worked and what didn't before planning the next meeting. Was every participant essential? Could the issues have been handled differently? Was this precious time used to brainstorm, resolve differences and make decisions instead of just to share information?
Virtual meetings are indispensable for moving complex projects along between colleagues who live and work remotely. These 10 strategies go a long way towards making them successful.
Does your organization hold virtual meetings? What makes them (un)successful?