Virtual Meeting Formats - Mix it Up!
As many companies and organizations around the world move to fully remote work during the Coronavirus crisis, managers are left to figure out how to effectively work with their teams in new ways.
This can be a fun challenge for managers who have an interest or background in working remotely. For those managers who are brand new to working remotely themselves, it is a very steep learning curve that can be stressful and overwhelming at times. Figuring out the right frequency and formats for their virtual team meetings is a large piece of the puzzle.
Are you a manager who is new to managing remotely and getting tired of leading the same type of virtual team meetings every week? Are your virtual meetings missing the mark or not hitting your intended outcomes? Are you running out of ideas for how to engage your team during your day-to-day virtual meetings? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, read on!
This post is to share some of the different formats for virtual meetings I have led or experienced over my 10+ years working on and collaborating with remote teams, including when and why managers might choose to use them. My hope is this list will spark creativity and inspire managers of newly remote teams to try out new virtual meeting strategies and, by doing so, greatly increase their remote team's capacity and impact.
I describe three unique virtual meeting formats for three common remote management needs: increasing remote team's cohesion and alignment on a specific project; helping remote team members feel heard and understood in a time of stress or transition; and, increasing transparency about remote team's projects and support needs.
MANAGER'S NEED: increase remote team's cohesion and alignment on a specific project
RECOMMENDED MEETING FORMAT: Virtual Work Sprint
DESCRIPTION: A virtual work sprint is a short, generative remote team meeting that consists of focused, live collaboration on specific, high priority project or work product. It can help in refining an idea or process, kicking off a daunting new project, or moving a stuck project forward. This short, focused live collaboration format can help your team filter out the distractions of working from home. Plus, employees love it because they leave the meeting having made actual progress on an important project (vs leaving with a longer to-do list).
LENGTH: 15-45 minutes
# OF PARTICIPANTS: 2-7 (use several virtual breakout rooms for larger teams)
FREQUENCY: As needed; can also be incorporated into a longer strategy session or ongoing project team meetings
HOW TO LEAD IT: Spend no more than 5 minutes introducing the problem or challenge. Let the team know the goal is to work quickly and make as much progress on the challenge as possible in a short amount of time. Be sure to establish a few norms for how the group will work together during the work sprint (e.g. ensuring all voices are heard, how to flag if the group is off topic, reminder to be respectful if you disagree with a suggestion, etc). Provide time checks throughout the meeting and refocus the group if they get off-topic. Prompt the group to focus on establishing a few clear next steps for the last 5 minutes of the meeting.
MANAGER'S NEED: help remote team members feel heard and understood in a time of stress or transition
RECOMMENDED MEETING FORMAT: Extended Virtual Team Check In
DESCRIPTION: In addition to leading shorter personal check ins at the start of virtual team meetings, incorporating a longer Extended Virtual Team Check In allows the team to set aside their work projects and deadlines and connect with each other on a deeper level. This is especially helpful when a team is dealing with a lot of change or uncertainty. Managers of remote teams must schedule and facilitate this type of a structured personal check in because, unlike on in-person teams, their team doesn't have opportunities for informal personal connections like coffee breaks or conversations in the break room.
LENGTH: 45-60 minutes
# OF PARTICIPANTS: 3-10 (use several virtual breakout rooms for larger teams)
FREQUENCY: Monthly (increase frequency when team is forming or in major transition)
HOW TO LEAD IT: Communicate the purpose of the meeting in advance to ensure team members are prepared to be focused and present for the entire meeting time. Start the meeting by establishing norms so everyone feels comfortable participating and sharing on a personal level. Then share a prompt that is designed to elicit meaningful responses from the team (e.g. "What are your biggest hopes and fears about the Coronavirus pandemic?" or "What are you noticing about your own well-being during this period of transition?") Each team member (including the facilitator) then takes 3-4 minutes to respond to the prompt. Be sure to emphasize the importance of active listening when others are speaking. Once everyone has shared, repeat with a second prompt if time allows. Wrap up by providing 5 minutes of "open forum" for the team to respond to anything that was shared in the meeting and to give a shout out or appreciation to a teammate.
MANAGER'S NEED: Increase transparency about remote team's projects and support needs
RECOMMENDED MEETING FORMAT: Virtual Team Stand-up
DESCRIPTION: A regular, fast-paced meeting that follows a consistent structured agenda in which every team member or department reports out to the rest of the virtual team. These meetings are a place to share accomplishments, upcoming priorities, and flag any barriers or support needs for future follow up. They are more about sharing "headlines" so the team is aware of their colleagues' current priorities and focus, and less about problem-solving or deeper work. These are helpful for teams when things are changing quickly and/or they are busy and have little time to make informal connections with their colleagues throughout the week. Managers love these to help them efficiently surface any urgent asks or barriers they need to address for their virtual team.
LENGTH: 20-30 minutes
# OF PARTICIPANTS: 5-7
FREQUENCY: weekly, ideally on Mondays or Fridays
HOW TO LEAD IT: Share a clear goal for the meeting (e.g. "to increase transparency about our department projects and support needs", or "to facilitate better communication about X project"). Keep the meeting short, be super strict about timekeeping, and set a consistent agenda and stick to it so everyone gets in the habit of preparing for the meeting. The virtual stand-up meeting generally consists of each participant taking 2-3 minutes to report out on the following: 1) one accomplishment or key update from the previous week, 2) one or two priorities for this coming week, and 3) one or two support needs or barriers. After each person presents, allow one minute for any questions from the team and be sure to flag support follow ups (e.g. "Sam will contact John 1:1 this afternoon to share her insights about that issue"). Then move forward to the next participant.
For each of these virtual meeting formats, use a video conferencing platform and establish an expectation of participants' videos being on the whole time - it's so important for remote teams to get face time with each other! Be sure to elicit regular feedback from meeting participants so you can continuously to modify and improve the impact of your virtual meetings. And remember - every time you meet is a chance to connect, build relationships, and boost your team's energy during a difficult time. Keeping things fresh and adapting your virtual meetings to meet your team's needs will help do just that!
every time you meet is a chance to connect, build relationships, and boost your team's energy during a difficult time.
While it is tempting to hide out and give in to distractions and stress during this chaotic time, managers of newly remote teams have a unique opportunity to get creative and experiment with new ways of collaborating to increase their team's impact. Happy facilitating!
About Kim Webster:
I am a facilitator & coach helping to increase leadership capacity and impact of emerging leaders and teams in purpose-driven companies and organizations. If you need support improving your team's virtual collaboration & remote meetings, or want help facilitating a high impact virtual session, please contact me at www.ownitconsulting.com or on LinkedIn.
I am currently offering FREE 30 minute consultations on remote working - from leading virtual meetings, to remote team management, to maximizing virtual collaboration technologies. Click here to request a consultation!