June 8, 2011

Start Virtual Team Meetings with a Little Business Improv

Since I am a contract facilitator at important business meetings or team-building events, I often get asked what should be done differently for virtual meetings verses face-to-face meetings. The basic requirements of any good meeting remain the same – follow the RARA meeting management approach of establishing Roles, starting and ending on time by following an Agenda, keeping Records with all decisions and the decision-making process documented, and assigning Actions before the end of the meeting. The main thing to keep in mind for a virtual meeting is for everyone to be more patient because you will not have the visual cues when someone wishes to talk or is ready to move to the next topic that you get in a face-to-face meeting.

Virtual meetings require the use of technology to communicate effectively. It is important that everyone knows how to effectively use the technology. Plan some training or quick reference guides on all the technologies to be used to start off on the right foot. This will ensure everyone is able to concentrate on meeting topics rather than trying to figure out how to mute/unmute when necessary over the phone or on computer speakers.

My previous 2 posts were about requirements for virtual team members and leaders to create the best team mix. To increase the team’s future success, the team should have their first meeting face-to-face. The team leader should personally contact each member, welcome them to the team by explaining how they fit into the group, and let them know when and where the first meeting will be. Then at that first meeting, conduct an activity that will make the team members more aware of the pros and cons of certain behaviors in meetings that will bog the group down. In the new book “Business Improv” by Val and Sarah Gee, they provide a great activity for this startup meeting. I have adapted this activity for virtual teams to use in their first face-to-face meeting and summarized the instructions below. There are also other activities in the book that can be done in future face-to-face meetings and a few relationship building ones that may be done in virtual meetings or by pairing up members outside the meeting.

Business Improv: Experiential Learning Exercises to Train Employees to Handle Every Situation with Success
Business Improv book
Business Improv Activity for Effective Meetings (#68 in book)

Your Objectives:
  • Recognize underlying issues and cause of disruptive behaviors to eliminate them.
  • Manage the need to control other’s behavior by creating personal accountability.
Activity Instructions:
1. Before starting the activity, begin with a short explanation of how you plan to handle regular meetings and unscheduled meetings only if necessary. Try to keep this talk under 5 minutes.

2. Do the activity in 4 rounds spending 2 to 3 minutes on each round.
  • Round 1: Individually and silently, have each team member think about what behaviors before, during, and after a meeting may cause disruption or annoyance, and result in ineffective meetings They should select, but not share, the one they feel is the worst for the next round.
  • Round 2: In small groups of 5-6 people, have the team members hold a mock meeting on any subject they choose. During this meeting, everyone is to demonstrate to the fullest the bad behavior they selected in round 1.
  • Round 3: Each individual member must now think about what the opposite behavior of the one they just acted out could be. If anyone can not determine an opposite behavior, ask them to consider a good behavior they think should be used in meetings.
  • Round 4: In the same small groups, have the team members hold a mock meeting on any subject they choose. During this meeting, everyone is to demonstrate to the good behavior they selected in round 3.
3. After the activity, debrief by asking the 3 questions below and allowing everyone on the team an opportunity to share their opinions on each question. Try to limit this discussion to 8-10 minutes at approximately 3 minutes per question.
  • “What was the biggest difference between meetings that were disrupted and those that were not?”
  • “What are the human needs behind the disruptive behaviors?”
  • “What specific actions can you take to stop disruptive behaviors during meetings?”

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