Today, at last, the big day is here:  Can You Hear Me? is officially published, out, available.  You can buy it here.  And please do, if you love words, the future of ideas, and cute puppies.  Because if the book does well, I’m getting a cute puppy.  Really.  Thank you!  This post is adapted from the book.

The weekly staff all-hands meeting has a long, semi-honorable history in organizational life.  As our workplaces have become half-virtual, half-face-to-face, the nature of these meetings has changed, but the purpose remains the same.  Bring everyone up to date, get the team on the same page, and ensure that we’re all working together.  If there are issues, deal with them.  If there are successes, celebrate them.  And if there are personnel changes, mention them.

The advantage of meeting face to face is that a good deal of group solidarity and level-setting gets expressed in a very efficient way.  New people can learn the culture of the team, for example, with head shakes, eye rolls, and laughter.  In a virtual meeting, that sort of bonding happens much less consistently or not at all.  The research shows that something more than 60% of the participants are doing something else, so that even simple exchanges of overt information are often missed or misunderstood.

How can you make these meetings better?

Start by shortening the length of the meeting if at all possible.  Because we’re less engaged, or engaged elsewhere, our attentions spans are shorter.  So get what you can from people, and increase the odds they’ll pay attention for at least some of the meeting, by making it as short as possible.  Try ten minutes or less and see how much you can get done.

Establish a different meeting time for socializing.  Socializing is, of course, one of the purposes of a team meeting.  The bonding allows for people to work together better when the crunch times hit.  In a virtual meeting, if you leave the socializing to the first annoying five minutes, when everyone is beeping in, it will be very unsatisfactory socializing indeed.  Instead, set aside some other time, at the end of the meeting, or on another call, for the fun stuff.

Make the fun stuff formal.  It’s more difficult to have informal fun when people can’t see each other.  So you may need to formalize the fun and games through trivia contests, impromptu polls on current events, and other such game night frivolities.  Give out prizes.  Enroll your team’s sense of competition by creating sub-groups and ongoing competitions.  Or simply assign people the task of coming to the next virtual meeting prepared to talk about their pets, or some other similar, safe, non-work trivia.

Use differences for bonding rather than division.  It’s very typical for companies to have virtual teams spread out over several continents and cultures.  These differences can make it harder to bring the team together.  But instead of settling for mutual incomprehension, assign team members the job of reporting on some aspect of their culture, taking turns and going around the world.

Finally, never assume that silence implies consent.  People are often quiet in virtual meetings because they are on mute, they have a hard time knowing when to break in, or the set-up of the meeting makes it generally hard to participate easily.  So make the polling formal when you’re looking for group buy-in.  Go around the virtual room and give everyone a chance to weigh in.  Make it explicit, not implicit, the way you might in a face-to-face meeting, where a nod might be enough.  Silence implies mute.

Use these general guidelines to improve your virtual team meetings and see the group participation strengthen.



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