Category Archives: Meetings

4 Best Practices for the Best Remote Meetings

Our previous post shared reasons why amnesty and the freedom to share opinions, observations or ideas are critically important requirements to running the most effective project team meetings.

Given the fact that a substantial percentage of all team meetings take place in a remote or virtual forum, and that the COVID-19 situation is driving that percentage up in a hurry, we thought people might find the following best practices helpful in their efforts to run the best remote meetings.

The Value of Remote Forums
Lack of visual contact, technical difficulties, equipment malfunctions, and declining attention spans are only some of the challenges associated with the typical “remote” meeting. Given these issues, it’s tempting to determine that virtual forums are not productive.

But in reality, the many cost, logistic and convenience related advantages far outweigh the negatives. Even better, by making a few key adjustments to meeting protocols and communication style, team leaders and facilitators can quickly transform remote meetings into highly productive and positive experiences.

4 Steps to the Best Remote Meetings
While all “standard meeting management” rules apply, there are a few additional requirements for virtual sessions, which can apply to any type of remote staff or project team meeting:

  1. Strategic preparation is the first step toward running the best remote meetings, as a strong leader who creates and uses an agenda and who communicates proactively is a must.

    The meeting leader must plan these virtual sessions to be more interactive than in-person meetings. Depending upon the purpose of the remote gathering, a meeting leader’s ideal “talk/listen” ratio will range between 30/70 and 60/40. Therefore, the advance plan must include both “speaking points” and “questions.” Both open-ended and closed-ended questions should be included in the plan so the leader will be able to more easily promote interaction or curb the discussion to keep it on track.

    A roll call form with space for making notes during the meeting should also be created, which will also be a useful tool for engaging participants during the session.
  2. The next step involves effectively running the remote session. The leader should call-in or log-in a few minutes early and greet participants as they arrive, thus beginning the engagement process. During these early minutes it’s best to ask questions about subjects that are NOT on the meeting’s agenda. The goal is to connect with the individuals, make them feel comfortable and promote their active participation in the remote meeting.

    It’s important to start on time, even if everyone has failed to call in or join. If people join late, it’s appropriate to offer a brief welcome but continue with the meeting’s discussion. Stopping to bring late-comers up to speed will diminish the experience for other participants and indirectly encourages the wrong behavior.

    Open with a brief roll call (a good way to test audio) and then identify ground-rules with respect to cell phone use, a disconnect plan, how questions will be handled, general etiquette, and how people should use tools such as chat, mute, and the hold button. Then make a clear statement of the meeting’s objectives.

    From this point forward, the leader should promote an appropriate level of interaction by incorporating questions into the discussion — as a rule of thumb, two-to-four times as many questions than might be posed in a face-to-face meeting. It’s best to direct these questions to individuals by name and avoid questions that are directed to the entire group, such as, “Does anybody have a question?” While it is common and acceptable to pose questions to the entire group in a live meeting, it is far less effective in a virtual meeting. The reason for this is simple: the visual contact in a live meeting allows everyone to easily see who has a question or who wishes to be heard. But in a remote forum, the most common result of “group-directed” questions is confusion — either no one says anything because no one is sure whose turn it is to speak, or several people pose questions or offer input at the same time.

    A notation should be made next to each participant’s name on the roll-call sheet each a question is directed their way, and some of the things they say in response should be noted as well. The leader can then use those notes to occasionally refer back to a comment or answer given by a participant — this will further engage those individuals and also promote more active participation from the group.

    If the leader detects waning attention spans or a drop in the group’s enthusiasm, the best course of action is to vary the information flow. Assigning a short (2 to 3 minutes) written exercise is a often a good way of accomplishing this. At the end, each person can be asked to share a portion of what they’ve written.
  3. Ending the session properly is very important. At the end of many remote meetings participants simply hang-up or disconnect without drawing conclusions or setting next steps. The meeting leader can avoid this “flat” ending and also improve the session’s productivity by conducting a formal wrap-up a few minutes prior to the meeting’s scheduled conclusion. A few best practices for an effective summary include:
    • End with the beginning by restating the meeting’s purpose
    • Draw conclusions
    • Assign or gather agreement on next steps
    • Debrief the session by gathering feedback from some or all of the participants
    • Acknowledge good participation and thank the group.
  4. Follow-up is the last, but certainly not the least important, step. As the meeting leader, there are several ways to promote productive outcomes and to hold people accountable for completing agreed-upon or assigned tasks. These include distributing a summary or meeting minutes (if someone had been assigned to record them), reaching out to participants for an update on or to offer support for agreed-upon next steps, and, of course, beginning to plan the next meeting!

Amnesty: A Foundation Block for Better Project Meetings & Improvement

We have often referenced the importance of “amnesty” in the realm of Continuous Improvement. If people are not comfortable talking about problems and process complexities, either out of fear of retribution or criticism, then it will be impossible to achieve a high performing culture of improvement.

One place where the freedom to share opinions, observations or ideas is critically important is in project team meetings. In support of the above-stated position regarding amnesty, a recent Harvard Business Review article shares some excellent perspective on “making your meetings safe.”

In the piece, author Paul Axtell shares an excellent example based on input from a young engineer and his supervisor Josh. This engineer worked on several project teams within a manufacturing facility. His story is as follows:

“Josh, my manager, would take everyone out for pizza when he came to the factory, and we’d have a ‘no secrets’ meeting. Josh asked us about whatever he wanted to know and we did the same in return. It was a meeting where everyone had permission to say or ask anything. It was amazing.”

The article goes on to explain how the manager, Josh, used these meetings to discover how his team was doing, how their projects were progressing, and what they needed in terms of support and resources. He asked broad questions to initiate open conversation, such as:

  • What do you think I need to know?
  • Where are you struggling?
  • What are you proud of?

This approach is well-aligned with ours. When the people closest to the work are confident that their ideas or suggestions for improvements will be honestly considered without recourse they are ideally suited for engaging in true Continuous Improvement. But without the “amnesty” to speak their mind or share their observations, the organization is doomed to live in the “status-quo.”

As Axtell put it, “The quest for better meetings ultimately lies in leading with mutual respectful, inclusivity, and establishing a space that is safe enough for people to speak their minds.”

Communication & CI Part 2: Hidden Costs?

As noted in our previous post, communication is an important, yet often over-looked tool for bringing about a culture of continuous improvement and engagement within a workforce.

But the effect of communication depends on its quality, and poor communication can be costly.   Even worse, these costs frequently go unnoticed!

For example, as reported in a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article, a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees. The article also referenced another study showing that miscommunication in smaller companies of 100 employees cost an average of $420,000 per year.

To determine or impact the quality of internal business communication, it is important to recognize that some communication forums are better than others.

For example, many organizations use suggestion boxes as forums. But the results are often disappointing. While a suggestion box requires little time or effort to initiate, its success relies on the ideas being completely and clearly expressed in writing.  Unfortunately, many people with good ideas simply cannot express them well.

Furthermore, if a suggestion requires more  explanation  or  development before it can be turned into a really great idea, the suggestion box does not offer an opportunity for clarification, debate, or refinement. Even worse, when the initial ideas are not fully formed or expressed, and management doesn’t have an opportunity for clarification, the ideas are harder to act upon, and often management loses interest.  When people notice nothing comes of the suggestion box, they stop offering ideas.

Here are some additional examples of costly miscommunication in business environments identified by Helen Wilkie, a consultant and author specializing in profitable, applied communication:

  • Long, boring, poorly-planned unproductive meetings that reach no conclusion and serve no purpose
  • Sales presentations that show no concern for, or understanding of, the client’s needs
  • Wasted time due to miscommunication about time or scheduling
  • Badly written e-mail messages that cause misunderstandings, ill will and wasted time
  • Employee alienation caused by managers who don’t listen
  • Lack of understanding between people of different age groups
  • Lack of understanding between male and female employees

Ultimately, the best forums are regularly-scheduled gatherings in which people can surface and discuss problems, waste, and opportunities for improvement.

When well-crafted, these forums allow for discussion to make sure each idea or observation is fully understood; any problems with an idea should be raised freely and discussed with the goal of improving the idea. In the end, the most effective improvements and innovations are often quite different from both the initial ideas and even the counter proposals. They emerge from listening to and incorporating different perspectives about barriers and unintended consequences to raise concepts to new levels.

A Closer Look at Distant Communication Part 3: The End

Completing our series about running the most effective project team teleconferences, we now focus on the best ways to end each session.

At the end of many teleconferences participants simply hang-up the phone without participating in a formal wrap-up. The meeting leader must be aware of the time and should begin a formal wrap-up a few minutes prior to the meeting’s scheduled conclusion.

Here are five best practices for doing so:

  • End with the beginning – i.e., restate the meeting’s purpose and begin to draw conclusions
  • Use shorter statements and closed-ended questions to keep everyone involved
  • Clearly assign tasks, responsibilities and next steps to individuals and get their agreement with respect to understanding and ownership — who will do what… where… and when?
  • Debrief the session by seeking input from participants. You might consider giving participants one minute to write-down a brief summary of “take-aways,” did-wells and do-betters, and then ask for a brief summary from each; or you might randomly pose final questions to each participant relative to their assessment of the session and understanding of next steps.
  • Acknowledge good participation and thank the group

Once the session is over there is, of course, still one more key responsibility for the meeting leader: follow-through. Here are a few thoughts that might help:

  • Distribute a meeting recap
  • Proactively contact participants who were most involved during the session to reaffirm the value of their input, to gather input for upcoming sessions and to promote ongoing participation.
  • Proactively contact participants who were assigned or volunteered to complete tasks – measure progress or offer support; send the implied message that you care and that the tasks are important by sending a progress report to all participants prior to the next meeting
  • Begin preparing the next meeting

As Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung so famously said, “You are what you do… not what you say you will do!

A Closer Look at Distant Communication Part 2: Keeping Track

In our previous post we noted that since it has become more commonplace for people to work from home or other remote locations, so too has it become necessary for leaders to develop and master the art of running remote or virtual meetings. Otherwise it becomes increasingly difficult to engage and keep project teams focused and on track.

It is also important to keep participants on track during these remote or virtual project team meetings. If, as suggested in that previous post, the meeting leader directs open-ended questions to individuals, it is important for the leader to keep track of how those questions are answered.

The simple solution is to create and use a master sheet, on which the leader can note the responses and other comments made by each participant. By listing each team members name in sequence, the leader can also direct questions on a random basis, which further keeps people’s attention, since no one knows when they will be called upon.

In addition, the leader can reference some of the comments during each meeting, thus further engaging the team members who made the comments and also proving to all that their input is, in fact, recognized.

These notes can also serve as a useful resource to the meeting leader after-the-fact, when planning the next meeting.

A Closer Look at Distant Communication

Without consistent, value-added communication project teams will struggle to achieve optimum results, so it is imperative that leaders conduct productive, timely meetings.

In several past posts we discussed the many challenges associated with running effective team meetings,  and shared best practices for overcoming these obstacles.

However, as emerging technology and numerous other factors have brought-about changes in day-to-day business practices, we can now define a new “type” of colleague: “the remote worker.”

As it has become more commonplace for people to work from home or other remote locations, so too has it become necessary for leaders to develop and master the art of running remote or virtual meetings.

Unfortunately, if people have struggled to run effective meetings in face-to-face settings (as documented by the Wall Street Journal and many others), the challenges quickly multiply in the virtual forum.

“I’ve participated in many teleconferences and find it difficult to stay focused because there is no visual contact between the parties,” one CI leader said. “Too many participants don’t pay attention because they multi-task, and these sessions are usually not productive.”

As a starting point for how a meeting leader must modify their plan when running a virtual meeting, consider the way in which people interpret a verbal message. As the image indicates, over half of that interpretation hinges upon non-verbal communication – that is, on “body language.” Since we can’t see one-another when involved in conference calls or in many other forms of remote group communication, the meeting leader must compensate by asking more questions.

In addition, there are two important requirements these questions must meet in order to be effective:

  1. Most of the questions are best phrased in an open-ended style (i.e., a style that requires more than just a “Yes” or “No” response).
  2. Each questions should be directed at an individual – by name. This is often perceived as overly-direct, but adhering to this rule is crucial. Consider that the frequently-used query, “Does anyone have any questions?” is perfectly fine for use in a conference room; but this same question is ineffective on a conference call because no one knows who should speak first… as a result, people tend to remain silent or talk all at once.

By following these two simple guidelines, meeting leaders can more successfully engage conference call participants and run more interactive sessions. By “directing” questions toward individuals as outlined above, the leader will also discourage the common practice of multi-tasking.

We will take a closer look at this aspect of “distant” communication in upcoming posts.

 

Assess the Quality of Your Meetings

meetings3As noted in our previous post, many of us don’t recognize the enormous impact (both positive and negative) meetings have on our organizations and careers!

Yet many professionals have had no real training in devising and managing an effective meeting.  This is truly regrettable as organizations of all types can experience significant gains by running effective team or project meetings.

Conversely, if these meetings are poorly executed, it’s only a matter of time before the workforce considers them to be non-productive, unnecessary or even unpleasant; in which case, certain opportunities will be forever lost!

So, the first step is to assess the quality of your organization’s meetings… which include “live” meetings, teleconferences and virtual sessions. Here are five key areas to consider:

  1. Preparation: Do you have a strategic plan, identified purpose, goals and objectives for your organization’s meetings? Does someone (Manager, Team or Project Leader) take the responsibility seriously and allocate the necessary time for planning each meeting? Is an agenda created? If so, is it shared in advance?
  2. Scheduling: Are meetings held on a regular basis… either weekly or bi-weekly? Are meetings held on the same day and at the same time each week or every two weeks? Are your meetings conducted with sufficient frequency? Is attendance considered mandatory? Do the meetings start and end on time? Do participants consistently arrive on time?
  3. Value: Are meetings run out of “habit” versus value-added need? The best meetings must be value-added for both leaders and the team, so protocols for exchanging relevant information must be incorporated in each agenda; each meeting should include an educational component that is based on the organization’s current situation, and that educates both leaders (through feedback) and the team on issues that are pertinent to each.
  4. Measurement: Do you measure the effectiveness of each meeting? Are action items from one meeting a component of the next meeting’s agenda? If so, is there consistent follow-through in between meetings? Are team members held accountable? Does management hold themselves accountable?
  5. Continuous Improvement: How can you make your organization’s meetings better? How can you leverage the time spent in preparation and execution to enhance your competitive edge?

If you’re wondering “what’s in it for you” or how you might maximize your ROI as a leader or member of management, here are a few thoughts:

  1. Assessment: Team meetings are key opportunities to assess the team all at once, measure the group’s attitude and identify the best opportunities for leveraging their collective effort.
  2. Team building: We can’t build team spirit if we don’t regularly “assemble” the team.
  3. Team engagement, motivation and recognition: Many people will go the extra mile for the team; but we can’t leverage team motivation if we only interact with the people on an individual basis. Recognizing significant individual achievement in a public forum is a prudent component of motivation and management as well workforce engagement.
  4. Thought leadership: Driving a high-performance culture begins with helping people focus on the right things, and publicly identifying / reaffirming core activities and values.
  5. Education: As stated above, every meeting should have an educational component that is based on the status of your organization or project, and relevant issues of the day; and let’s not forget that “the wisdom is often in the room.” Sharing value-added information and best practices in a public forum not only provides highly-credible education, but also allows successful team members an opportunity to shine in front of their peers.

“Meeting” Continuous Improvement Challenges?

meetings2As we all know, communication and project team meetings are key components to driving continuous improvement. In one of last year’s posts we focused on some of the most common challenges associated with running the best meetings, along with best practices for improving the effectiveness of those meetings.

In that post we shared data that was, at the time, presented by the Wall Street Journal indicating that barely half of all meetings in the US were productive!

Wondering how much this might be costing businesses around the nation?

Well, according to effectivemeetings.com, approximately 11 million meetings occur in the U.S. every day, and most professionals attend a total of 61.8 meetings per month.

Their research also indicates that over half of this meeting time is wasted, resulting in a loss (cost!) of approximately four work days per month.

Here are a few additional and equally-troubling statistics from inc.com and other survey sources about what really happens during meetings:

  • 91% say they daydream
  • 96% have purposely missed meetings or parts of meetings
  • 92% say they have brought other work or they multi-task when in meetings
  • 39% say they have dozed during meetings
  • 67% of all meetings are considered non-productive or failures

Possibly you have experience to share?

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