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Practical Tips for Leading More Productive Virtual Meetings

By Susan Hall

In this video, Susan Hall, Andrea McOwen and Joane Ramsey share and discuss two best practices for virtual meetings:

  1. Engage all of the participants
  2. Establish ground rules and processes

Susan Hall: 00:09 It is a reality of the business world that we live in these days that we do business virtually and remotely. I think most clients are global and they bring together people to conduct work and conduct meetings from across the country and around the globe. So, today what we're going to be talking about is some best practices and practical tips for conducting more productive virtual meetings. I think it's really important because all of us have been on those virtual meetings and know that it's really easy to get distracted. You can multitask and focus on other things and you're not contributing your talent and your best thinking to the meeting. So, how do we go about doing that? We've all heard the statistics that 7% of communication is the actual words that you use. 35% is your tone of voice and a full 55% is your nonverbal.

So if you don't have your camera's on, you're missing half of the communication impact that you have.

Andrea McOwen: 01:10 More than half.

Susan Hall: 01:11 Yes. There are two best practices that we want to talk about and then tips under each of those. The first one is, as the leader of the meeting, it's really important to engage all of your participants, not just the vocal few. The second is, to make sure that your team is setting up ground rules and operating principles for how you're going to interact together and make sure that everybody participates. I think every leader has had that opportunity where you feel like you're just pulling teeth to try to get somebody to respond and answer and it's too much burden for the leader.

Andrea McOwen: 01:47 It's painful for everyone, actually.

Susan Hall: 01:47 It's painful for everybody and it creates kind of a passive work team too that feels like they could sit back and do their nails or check email, or do something else.

So, Joanne, I know you conduct a lot of virtual meetings. What are your thoughts?

Joane Ramsey: 02:02 Yes, that is so true, Susan. I think you hit the nail on the head, as they say. How many times have we been in a virtual meeting, either leading or participating and somebody will ask the question, "How is it going?" or whatever the question may be and we have dead silence on the other end. As a leader sometimes, the tendency is to say, "Okay, well, we need to move on." So, silence means agreement and I think that's kind of a dangerous pitfall because you can make the assumption that because no one is speaking, giving the difference in cultures and differences in styles, that silence means agreement. I think you have to be careful and not make assumptions.

Andrea McOwen: 02:50 It could mean exactly the opposite.

Joane Ramsey: 02:52 Exactly.

Andrea McOwen: 02:54 One of the things that we also want to focus on when we do virtual meetings is the use of tools that we have available to us. As you said earlier, Susan, it's really hard to stay connected when the cameras aren't on because you know in the back of your head, you can do something else. I know I'm guilty of being on a virtual meeting, checking email, sending an email, writing to-do lists, and it's just really easy to disconnect. If you use tools like chat rooms, whiteboards, even show a visual, I think that helps because it draws people in. On the meetings that I've been on, where somebody is using a whiteboard, I feel like I really have to stay connected and pay attention, because somebody could put something on that whiteboard and I could miss it, and then I'm not tracking with the rest of the people in the group. So, implementing available tools is important to do.

Susan Hall: 03:45 I think it's also important, you can't overemphasize the importance of engagement. A lot of times these teams are new. You bring in different communication styles, different cultural norms. You can't spend enough time engaging them. So, designate time for informal personal conversations, turn the cameras on, start the meeting 10 minutes early for whoever wants to be involved with that. One of my clients, who by the way, is a Driver, so very focused on task and productivity. When she took over her team in EMEA, she started a Friday afternoon water cooler meeting for anybody who was available to join, and by the way, she made sure, as a leader, that she was always available.

Joane Ramsey: 04:31 Good example.

Susan Hall: 04:32 To set the example, they designated 45 minutes to an hour to turn their camera's on, to talk with each other. The only ground rule was, it couldn't be about business, because this was an opportunity for them to bond and build trust. So there were dogs barking in the background and kids walking through, and they learned a lot about each other. What's pretty incredible, as she said, is the productivity of that team through collaboration and the willingness to work together increased exponentially as a result.

Andrea McOwen: 05:04 We have another client that did something similar. This, in particular, was a global team, and many of the people had never actually met each other face to face. It is really hard to feel connected to somebody that you have never even met in person. So what she did was designate certain meetings to be just a global awareness type of a meeting.

Andrea McOwen: 05:26 She would pick a team member, and she would do it about once a month. For example, let's say this participant was from Spain. So, the only agenda for that meeting was for this individual from Spain to share with the rest of the team things about his or her culture. So, show pictures of the landmarks in Spain, or show headlines of important news items. Just anything that would help people understand what it's like to live and grow up, or work in Spain. And again, people really felt connected to each other because they knew more personal and cultural knowledge about each other.

Susan Hall: 06:02 We've talked about the first best practice, which is engaging all your participants, using your platform to make sure that they're involved, building time in for relationships. Let's talk about the second, and that's around ground rules and processes for your team. I know you've got some thoughts on that Joane.

Joane Ramsey: 06:17 It was interesting, because when Andrea brought it up, bringing in and designating time, or your client designated a time. I think that's part of establishing ground rules on how you're going to run the meeting. Who's going to take charge, and setting up and pulling on the strengths of each team member, because we're all working virtually. How do we connect at a level that we understand what strengths we bring to the team? How can we help each other accomplish the task at hand? By setting those ground rules and making sure that we have some structure around it, I think we can make it a much more productive environment, even though we're doing it virtually.

Susan Hall: 07:01 When we teach clients how to conduct more productive virtual meetings, one of the tools that they spend about three minutes on is, what are the tasks that we enjoy doing and what are we good at? So, who's good at keeping time, for example. Who's good at brainstorming, who's good at presenting, and who wants to do these things? We break them out into virtual breakout groups, come back, and within three minutes they know who wants to do what. There are lots of different tools like that, that you can use, to have the team come up with how they're going to operate together productively and in a way that engages.

Andrea McOwen: 07:39 One of the other things I think you also need to take into account, especially if you're the leader, is the different styles – personality styles, communication styles, and cultures.

If you are posing a question and you're expecting a lot of people to blurt out an answer. You have to consider the cultures. There are certain cultures where that's not okay, they don't do that. Especially, if there's a manager on the call as well. So, you need to take that into account. You also need to take into account, Social Style. The example I like to use is if you're posing a question and you want immediate answers. If you have Analyticals on the call, you do need to give them a few minutes to think it through and make it a safe environment for people to blurt out answers, or for people to say, "You know what, I'm going to need a minute. Let me give you an answer to that in a second." Just make people comfortable in their Social Style and culture.

Joane Ramsey: 08:25 I think at the end of the meeting, as you wrap up, always make sure to ask the questions, "What went well? What can we improve upon?" People need some time to process and provide feedback so we can improve upon and have some great virtual meetings.

Andrea McOwen: 08:41 Be productive.

Susan Hall: 08:43 We could certainly talk about this all day because I think all of us have felt the pain and the value of working with our virtual colleagues. Certainly, we welcome our thoughts from our clients as well. The main things to remember are these two best practices, which is, how can we make sure we're engaging all of our employees by sending messages of equality to all of them, and secondly, that we're putting in ground rules and processes in place.

Published: December 26, 2019

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Susan Hall

Vice President- Business Development & Performance Improvement

Susan brings over 20 years of experience working with global markets and organizations, helping them navigate through tough economic challenges while maintaining their margins. Since joining SEG in 1995, she has had the privilege of working with organizations that truly value the development of their employees and recognize the impact their people have on their bottom line results. Susan graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a double major in business management and speech communication. She has also completed course work toward her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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