Getting Better Results from Your Virtual Teams
Can you imagine the day when 3D hologram technology exists so that when you want to have virtual meetings, all participants can “sit in the same room”, even when they are located all over the world? Cisco and Musion are already working on making this technology a reality.
This gives us a fascinating vision of the future. We have a lot of technological options to support virtual teams (e.g. conference calls, screen sharing programs), but virtual teams still wrestle with getting things done effectively.
You need to focus on two areas in managing meetings: the mechanistic “rules and regulations”, and the dynamic elements such as how decisions are made, how conflict is solved, and how learning occurs. In our experience, the dynamic aspect is much more important when it comes to achieving team results: it doesn’t matter how many tools you have, it’s how you use them that counts.
We are working more and more virtually these days, and our teams are incorporating new technologies into even simple meetings. Several basic concepts from our Team Accelerator workshops can help to improve your results and interactions at virtual meetings:
1) Team Size: The most crucial factor in determining whether or not you will have a productive meeting is your awareness of how to handle different numbers of meeting participants. We have already discussed this issue in a previous article (When it Comes to Teams – Size Matters!), but in summary: you are more likely to get effective results with a team size of 4-6 people. When you have a larger team size, it becomes more critical to have a high level of facilitation skills.
2) Belbin Team Mapping: A high-impact technique for getting the best out of people in a meeting, is to complete a Belbin Team Map based upon Belbin Team Roles. A visual representation of the strengths people bring to the table (as well as potential team pitfalls) is an instant productivity enhancer. It enables the most effective use of each team member, highlighting their contributions. For example, those who can best play the Coordinator team role bring to the team an ability to orchestrate problem-solving, and create consensus, while those best suited to the Monitor-Evaluator role provide the vital skill of critically examining the practicality and soundness of ideas.
3) Groundrules: It is especially important in virtual meetings to have very clear groundrules on how the meeting will run. For example: starting the meeting on time, being connected to the conference call before the meeting starts, and carefully managing the amount of social discussion that inevitably occurs at the beginning of meetings.
4) The Three “P”s: In virtual meetings, using The Three “P”s (Purpose, Process, Preparation) is absolutely essential. We have dealt with this topic in depth in a recent article, where we discussed using The Three “P”s as a flexible technique for meeting preparation to increase productivity in meetings.
5) Balance of Participation: How many meetings have you attended (especially virtual meetings!) where a few individuals take up most of the meeting “air-time”, while the rest of the meeting participants contribute very little to the conversation or to the problem-solving that is required to reach sound decisions? Usually, it is up to the people playing the Coordinator and Team Worker roles to use active inquiry skills to get out all of the potential ideas from all meeting participants. Having only a few people who dominate a meeting, severely limits the amount of useful data available to a team.
6) Divergent/Convergent: It is as important in virtual meetings as in face-to-face meetings to have a careful management of the right amount of divergent thinking (e.g. brainstorming) versus convergent thinking (e.g. prioritizing and making decisions). We recommend conscientiously starting with divergent thinking to get out all of the ideas before moving into a convergent mode.
7) Benefits and Concerns (“Bs and Cs”): Doing post-meeting “Bs and Cs” checks on meeting effectiveness is absolutely essential at the end of each virtual meeting. In virtual meetings, things can go awry much more easily than in live meetings as there is no face-to-face contact. You may not really know how people are reacting to ideas and to each other. It is our experience that concerns will be brought up at the end of meetings in a five minute “Bs and Cs” check that may not have been voiced during the meeting. Only by diligently employing post-meeting checks can you make sure that your virtual meetings are not steadily deteriorating.
During our Team Accelerator® workshops, participants internalize how to effectively use these ideas in their organizations, producing an instantaneous improvement in meeting effectiveness. When individuals from various levels of the organization implement these concepts, the learnings develop into new and permanent organizational norms.
If you’re interested in finding out more:
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About the Author
Max is the CEO of Belbin North America. He brings a depth of knowledge and experience from his career in general management and consulting in North America, England, Europe and Asia. Max has assisted CEOs and senior leaders within client organizations with the design and implementation of Interaction Planning processes, team based organizational development programs and Lean Six Sigma initiatives.