Select virtual meeting technology to support the group process, not the other way around

The Number One Challenge that facilitators and trainers have with virtual meetings and webinars is: How to keep participants engaged? I suggest that this is directly related to the Number One Trap that we fall into when moving from face-to-face to virtual events: starting with a piece of technology and then trying to make engagement happen. While technology can accelerate great communication, meeting effectiveness and virtual teamwork, it cannot create it. Rather we need to 1) start with our meeting or learning objectives, 2) understand the different types of interaction we are seeking to create during different parts of our agenda or process and then 3) select technology to support the desired interaction.

In our workshops and webinars about leading virtual teams and getting great results from virtual meetings, we use the following schematic to discuss how to select virtual meeting technology to match the type of interaction we need.

Virtual Meeting Technology Schematic

Let’s apply this model to a virtual team scenario and see how it directs our technology choices. Rather than look for a single piece of technology that drives every part of our interaction we will select different tools that best support different outcomes or learning objectives.

Scenario: A half day team meeting is canceled due to slashed travel budgets. The distributed team of eight now needs to meet virtually to develop a value proposition for their department.

Meeting objective: To engage team members in deliberation about their group’s value to the organization in a way that will build team commitment and produce a value proposition to guide the team’s internal branding and strategic planning.

Process: Share the results of client interviews, summarize what we have heard and discuss the differences between how we see ourselves and how our clients see us. Explore the concept a value proposition and what it means to us. Brainstorm ideas for our value proposition; discuss and debate; come to consensus on a final value proposition statement (with voting if needed).

Format: Three short virtual meetings (< 1 hour) with time before and between to share information, think about what we have discussed and prepare some ideas to share with the team.

Technology choices matched to the types of interaction at each step of the process:

Documentation:  SharePoint document management software to post interview summaries. (Asynchronous)
Collaboration: FacilitatePro web meeting software to post reflections about interview summaries asynchronously ahead of a real time virtual meeting. (Asynchronous)
Conversation: One-on-one telephone calls between the facilitator and the team members to exchange expectations and get to know each other before the first virtual meeting.
Conversation: TelePresence video conferencing to support an interactive conversation. Reflect on what we have heard from the customer feedback and how it affects our value to the organization as a whole and to individual groups of customers. (Real time)
Presentation: How to build a good Value Proposition? Email to share a link to useful online resources ahead of the meeting. (Asynchronous) WebEx web conferencing software to share a brief presentation during a teleconference call. (Real time)
Conversation: Encourage informal conversations by telephone, instant messenger and team Facebook page between virtual meetings to share ideas about the type of value proposition that would work best for our department. (Asynchronous)
Collaboration: Teleconference supported by FacilitatePro for brainstorming and idea exchange – each team member posts proposed value propositions, then builds upon each other’s ideas. Anonymity encourages full participation and builds shared ownership for the end result. Prioritize half a dozen alternatives. (Real time)
Collaboration: Continue deliberation between meetings using the shared flip chart in FacilitatePro, soaking in the ideas and posting new ones. (Asynchronous)
Collaboration: Final discussion and decision making. FacilitatePro to collect final edits to proposed value proposition. Voting on two or three alternatives, if needed. Documentation of final statement. (Real time)
Conversation: TelePresence to support verbal reflection on our team process. (Real time)
Documentation: FacilitatePro to create quick report of our online deliberations. SharePoint to store these notes for future reference. (Asynchronous)

 

This examples illustrates how breaking up a virtual meeting into several segments, both real time and asynchronous, gets us thinking about using a variety of virtual meeting technologies to support a highly interactive process. In reality we would now want to look at the range of technology options and pick the best tools for supporting the types of interaction we need. The bottom line: if we start with our objectives, our technology choices support rather than drive the way we keep participants engaged.

Posted by Julia Young, Facilitate.com

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  1. Great post! This is very helpful advice for those who struggle with choosing the best technology option(s) for a great virtual meeting, whether asynch or synch. You’ve given us a great list of “ingredients” and guidelines for choosing the best combination for a variety of situations. I really like the mapping of tech choices to types of needed interactions. Thanks so much! – Nancy


  2. Thanks for helping us avoid the trap of picking technology before the engagement and then creating the engagement. You are then a prisoner of the technology. And to complicate this effort is the lack of job satisfaction by US workers according to the the Conference Board. See http://goo.gl/Z24Sj. When only 45% are satisfied (55% unsatisfied) makes for a very challenging effort to create the engaging meeting.



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