In recent years, teleconferencing has risen in popularity, and no wonder. Why spend hours (and money) travelling when you can be in your own workplace – which may also be home – with everything you need to hand? Naturally there are some meetings that have to be face to face, but as we’re getting more accustomed to using teleconferencing on a daily basis, the default for a meeting is no longer face to face.
However, getting teleconferencing meetings to be productive is probably more challenging in some ways than face to face meetings. Because if you want people to think and share their thinking (rather than sitting silently on the end of a phone, staring at a VC screen saying nothing or doing their emails surrepticiously) you have to create an environment where that can happen easily. Also, in my experience at least 25% of the time if you’re using AV technology, there’s a problem at one end of it (even in highly technical and digital savvy companies!) in the setting up time, which makes meetings start late and run over.
Here are a few things that I find helpful. Some of them are from Nancy Kline’s inspiring ideas around “Transforming Meetings“ using the Thinking Environment ™. At the heart of the Thinking Environment is the principle that people do their best thinking when they are encouraged and feel safe to do so. Giving and receiving Attention and feeling at Ease are essential, and believing that everyone’s voice matters, whoever they are, creates a sense of Equality that makes a massive difference to the meeting. (For more reading the Thinking Environment see here).
- Prepare agenda items in the form of questions (questions open up thinking whereas lists close them down). So rather then “Budgets” it would say, “What are the priorities for the budget discussion?”
- Send round the list of participants in advance and use it to elicit responses from everyone in turn, in a “round”. It seems to help the meeting to flow.
- People haven’t mentally arrived until they have spoken, and sometimes don’t say much more than hello so they haven’t really engaged. A quick opening round asking about something positive, e.g, “ What’s currently going well for you in your life or work?” sets the meeting off well.
- If people arrive more than 5 minutes into the meeting I ask them to stay silent and then I will invite them to speak at the end of the “round”.
- Ask people to say their name before they speak.
- If you want to create a sense of equality people need to contribute at least 1 new idea to the conversation. I ask them this at the start. And at the end if we haven’t heard much from any one person I will contact them afterwards to follow up. I don’t put them on the spot at the time unless I can see a good reason for doing so (i.e. where the meeting is specifically to resolve conflict or address communication problems, in which case I’ll have contracted to offer my observations).
- It’s hard for people to pay the same attention on a VC or teleconference as they would in a face to face meeting. With a new group we discuss the things that can irritate people in tele meetings (typically they cite ‘people not listening’, ‘multi-tasking’, ’emails’, ‘interruptions’, ‘background noises’, etc . I then ask – “So how can we make this and our future meetings different?”
- On each agenda item we do a round. If someone wants to miss their turn they can, so it goes to the next one. At the end I will ask anyone who skipped if they’d now like to say anything. If not we move onto next agenda item.
- Interruptions are to be seriously avoided and in exchange for not being interrupted, people are asked to be succinct. When they have finished talking on a subject they are asked to say “I’m done” so we know they have finished and someone else can speak.
- I discourage too much use of the mute button because it can encourage people to multi-task if they think they cannot be heard. If they do multi-task, the meeting will definitely take longer. And people will not feel as if they have been listened to, which is key to creating an environment where everyone contributes their finest thinking.
If you would like to discuss how we can help you and your teams to get better results from meetings, just contact us for an exploratory discussion.
And if you’re interested in training to use the Thinking Environment, Linda is running two Thinking Partnership courses during 2014 – see http://coachingforleaders.co.uk/time-to-think/ for more details.
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