• Thrive Inc.

Making Virtual Meetings More Effective

It's 2021 and we’re back with a new series! To kick off the year, we’re focusing on The Beauty of Conflict for Teams, using material from our book and applying it to the virtual world.

Working in a virtual world can often feel dehumanizing, so we’re here to support you in taking care of yourself and others. In this new series, we’re showing you how to work more effectively with your team, boost productivity, and thrive at work.

Tune in this week as we discuss how working virtually affects different people, and how you can facilitate online meetings to harness better outcomes. We’re sharing some tips and tools to maximize efficiency when working with others and showing you how to use the resources available to you to improve working relationships.

If you want to make a difference for either yourself and your career, or your team and your organization, be sure to reach out to us and sign up for coaching! We can come and do a book club or simply visit with your team! Don’t worry about physical limitations – we work really well virtually, too!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Listen on Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Learn More:

  • Some great ways to build connection in an online world.

  • How to use virtual platforms more effectively.

  • Some tools to work more effectively with teams remotely.

  • Why having too many meetings decreases productivity.

  • How to address conflict in a virtual world.

  • The importance of transition points between meetings.


Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. I am CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan.

CrisMarie: We run a company called Thrive Inc, and we specialize in conflict resolution, stress management coaching and building strong, thriving teams and relationships both in person and virtually.

Susan: We are starting 2021 with a series based on our book, The Beauty of Conflict for Teams. We’ll be sharing tips, tools about how to make your team work more effectively especially in this remote and virtual environment. We hope you’ll walk away from this episode and this series with some fresh ideas that change your day, your week and even your life.

CrisMarie: Podcast of 2021, this is CrisMarie and welcome to The Beauty of Conflict.

Susan: Yes, and this is Susan here and yes we’re excited that we’re now into 2021. And we have a new focus that we’re kicking off the year with because we really want to start off this year focusing on The Beauty of Conflict for Teams and using the material from our book. But also kind of taking some of that material and applying it to what the virtual world is like these days.

CrisMarie: So today we’re going to talk about how to make virtual meetings better, because even before Covid happened the number one pain point people would say is, “Oh my gosh, I go to too many meetings. I hate our meetings, they’re so boring. I disengage.” That’s when they were in person. So you know listener, I’m sure you have your own experience of virtual meetings.

But some of our clients have said, “I start at 6:00am, I go to 6:00pm, I have some dinner and then I jump on at eight or nine because I’ve got to deal with Asia or other parts of the world that are in different time zones.” And so it can be really grueling sitting behind your computer what can feel like 24/7.

Susan: Yes. And we want to talk about different aspects of meetings because we have heard from the people we’ve been coaching and the teams we’ve been working with, some of the challenges they’re facing. And what are some of the things you can do remotely to make that better?

CrisMarie: Susan, I know we were talking to one of the CEOs that we’ve worked with for several years. And he was like, “We’re so productive, it’s more productive. I love this, except when we want to solve a big hairy problem. And I can’t grab 20 people and bring them into the conference room.” And that sort of conversation doesn’t seem to be happening well on the virtual space.

And we’re going to talk about how to handle that particular scenario as well as meeting after meeting because some of the conditions that you had at the office just don’t exist. Susan and I can’t walk down the hall and say, “How was your weekend?” Or, “What are you going to do this weekend?” Or, “How are you feeling?” Those chitchat conversations aren’t happening because we are clicking on and clicking off because we’re going right to business when we start.

Susan: So yeah we want to talk about that. And also little things, like it used to be people commuted to work and that was actually a way they could separate work from home. Now, there’s very little ways to separate work from home because you might be working on your kitchen table and the only way you separate is when you clear it off to fix dinner. And that’s not much transition and it doesn’t really give you a chance to make a break to really distinguish between being at the job and back at home.

CrisMarie: Now, one of the – there is an author, she wrote The Art of Gathering and I’m not going to say her name right, Priya Parker I think it is. But she really talks about how when you’re walking down the hall and then you enter into the conference room there is a whole bunch of stuff. Maybe you take off your coat because you work from a different building. And you’re chatting to the person and maybe some other people are chatting. And there’s all this psychological connection, you get information. You feel a part of a group.

This transition of walking through the doorway and then you’re at the meeting and that’s very different virtually. And so there are some things that you want to be thinking about, how can you actually make that more effective? Because you know you get on Zoom and two people maybe are talking about their weekend when you get on the call but nobody else can join in. Because it’s not like I can turn to somebody else unless I do it through chat and say, “Hey, Mary, how are you doing?” It’s a very different environment.

Susan: We have been talking to people and trying things out ourselves to support teams in finding ways. I mean a couple of things, one, now often you are looking into somebody’s home but they’ve sort of modified that a bit because now they have the virtual screen has become something even more prominent. And we have actually encouraged teams to have your virtual screen say something about you. So you can do the virtual screen but at a holiday meeting maybe you pick your favorite holiday picture.

CrisMarie: That’s what we did when we were facilitating a day long offsite with a technology company. We said, “Okay, everybody put your favorite holiday background.” It was so neat and people participated and then you feel a part of something. You could even say, “Hey, everybody, bring your favorite mug.” You have to show it and people can guess why it’s your favorite mug, it might have some special meaning.

Susan: Or I know what was kind of original is before you come to the meeting go walk out in your neighborhood, take a picture of something that means something to you and use it as your virtual background because you can do that now. And not only do people learn something about your neighborhood or where you are, and maybe you can’t even get outside so it’s your elevator. But the idea being, find a way to take a picture and use that as your background.

CrisMarie: Another piece and this is what we started doing when we were doing Unpack Your Stress, this was at Microsoft. When we started the meetings we actually put on a song as people were coming in. And that was so different because everybody’s been in other meetings where they were very serious. And we just wanted a shift of the energy. We encouraged people to get up and dance, of course who knows, we were. And that was a way to again, change the energy and then get back into what we were focused on.

Susan: And we know sometimes people aren’t going to turn on their cameras or whatever else. So you could put your favorite GIF in the chat, especially if you’re not going to be on the screen, that’s another way. So there are ways to do this to kind of meet the needs of whoever is in your group and team.

CrisMarie: And there’s also some rules of engagement that you want to start to institute, your meeting might be very different than some other teams or one meeting you go to versus another. And so you have to look at what are the behaviors that are not working and what are the behaviors that are? And sometimes there is three people in an eight person meeting that do all the talking. And it’s really easy to opt out of the discussion in a virtual meeting because especially if you’ve got some talkers.

And a client of mine hasn’t gotten her Christmas gift yet but we have it spread all out over our table, they are called digicards. And they are just different things that you can put visually, they’re like the reactions. But you can put, “Hey, be right back.” And it’s got a little card or, “Slow down”, or, “I have to go.”

Susan: I like the one, “You’re frozen.” Because often being in Montana sometimes our virtual screen freezes so it’s nice to have someone be able to show me that and let me know.

CrisMarie: I thought you were talking about we were freezing because of the snow out there.

Susan: The weather, it could be that but no, I was talking about when the computer screen freezes.

CrisMarie: Or you’re on mute, you know how somebody starts talking and they keep going on and you try to tell them, but you could put up a card or even I have an idea as a way of interrupting a heavy talker.

Susan: We talk about this in our book related to team norms, not just remotely but even if you do have the opportunity, because some people out there might actually have those opportunities to be meeting in person. You also need to pay attention to how can someone interrupt and to talk about that. If you know you have very extroverted people, or people who are very passionate about their ideas, or verbose, how can you begin to give that person feedback in a way that allows other people to chime in?

And that’s one of those, can be an awkward conversation to have but a very important one. And as we say in the book, whenever somebody brings up a hard topic like that, really make sure if you’re the leader to encourage it. Let’s talk about this. Let’s figure it out. And remember that those norms aren’t designed to just be perfect, they’re actually designed to be the things you have to actually call each other on and say, “No, it didn’t really work well.” So, that’s in person or remote.

CrisMarie: And if you’re having a hard time doing the live action interrupting you can always ask, and especially if you’re the leader of the team or the facilitator is to say, “Okay, let’s just take the last minute and let’s see how effective this meeting was.”

And this is another tool we use in decision making, it’s a quick tool, it works really well virtually is thumbs up, that was a great meeting, thumbs sideways, it was okay, thumbs down, it really didn’t work for me. And people can flash their thumb very visually and you can focus on the people that have their thumbs down or sideways to get more information of what didn’t work.

Susan: And if you have that person who really is not going to put themselves on the video, they can put it in chat, thumbs up, thumb down, thumb sideways. So again we want to make this inclusive so that people can do this. So again, these are also things you may have to talk about. You want to make sure people are willing, “Are you willing to try this?”

And we actually find this really helpful, we’ve worked with a couple of teams that get passionately talking about something and they think they’re disagreeing but they actually radically agreed that one team used to call it, we passionate agree with each other. And it’s like yeah, and it takes you forever to move on to the next topic. So they have a thing now where I think someone can say, “I think we’re in passionate agreement. Let’s do the thumbs and find out. Do we have enough alignment to move on to another topic?”

Sure enough I think that they said that’s actually made their meetings so much more effective because they are spending a lot of time talking about something that they’ve over-talked.

CrisMarie: This is why we have been facilitating strategic meetings let’s say, 90 minutes to three hours in length and day long off-sites in chunks. And one of the things for virtual meetings, and you may have found this yourself is you need more structure. You really need more facilitation, more interaction like, “Well, we haven’t heard from Mary, Tony and Frank, why don’t we pause.” Somebody in that role, that’s often what we were doing to kind of stop the flow for the heavy talkers. And pull in those people that are quiet.

So if you’re somebody that’s in that role or can speak up on your team and say, “Hey, I know we’ve heard from you guys but what about these other folks?” That would be a way to make sure you’re having the right conversations. And time is also, “Hey, you only have 15 minutes for your slot, you’re five minutes into that, I want to make sure you get to what you really want to share.” That’s important to do especially during virtual meetings.

Susan: I think too in virtual meetings differently than probably sitting meetings, you need to make sure after an hour or at the most an hour and a half, you do something that lets people stand up, get up, move away from the screen. And it helps if that’s actually structural and planned so that people know they can do that. And it’s going to happen. It’s not just a bathroom break but it’s actually, “I just need to stand up and move away from the screen for a minute.”

CrisMarie: Yeah. “I’m going to put myself on mute and turn off my video and go walk outside, get a cup of tea.” Because it is, you were talking about this Susan, where you had one client who said halfway through the day, her and her husband actually switch where they’re sitting because they don’t want to stay in that same place. Talk more about that.

Susan: Well, I mean a couple of different scenarios, that particular was they both were in meetings all day long and in different rooms. And so they would just switch, they’d pick up their computers and go to a different spot. Someone else that was having the same issue had one of those standing desks. So they’d spend half the time sitting then they’d stand back up.

We actually created ways because we, you know, we’re facilitating these meetings so that we could put our computer so that we could actually stand up if we wanted to jot something on a flipchart, we could. And it gave us our norm to be able to do that. I know another leader, he says, “I pace back and forth in front of my camera.” That might drive me nuts but he really, it helps him stay engaged.

CrisMarie: And one of the tools we talk about in the book that I think is powerful, we use a tool, flipcharts, if you’re in the same room that’s really easy. We’ve actually used it virtually when we’re facilitating a team offsite. Some form, because people can see it because we put the flipchart right in our camera view. But having a group meeting, you’re not writing everything down but you’re capturing the gist, you’re capturing decisions, especially if you’re brainstorming you want people to see that their ideas were caught, and captured, and up in front of you and then they can go on.

So finding the right tool where you’re not using the entire screen to block the people out but it’s big enough so people can see. So finding what works but a joint capturing of group ideas is crucial.

Susan: And I think now as we go forward there probably are going to be more and more ways that that can happen, like a whiteboard situation that doesn’t take up the whole screen.

CrisMarie: Or you can zoom it in and zoom it out.

Susan: The thing I noticed, we were working with a company recently and sometimes though you can get a little overzealous about the technology. And I think it can take away like…

CrisMarie: We were doing process mapping and boy, the tools that we used or investigated to use were…

Susan: They were taking, you know, yes, somebody really knew how to do them fast and well. Maybe it could have been an effective meeting. But it also sort of took away from the meeting itself. It’s kind of like if you have too many PowerPoint slide decks that can take away. Sometimes it can just be make sure people have a pad of paper in front of them, what are three key things you took away from that last 10 minute discussion we had. And each person just jot something and holds them up in front of the screen, or reads them out loud, or puts them in the chat, something just to make it different.

CrisMarie: We live in a society where extroverts are lauded, and if you speak loudly, and you take control of the meeting, all those things that you see people do. I can do them. But it really can leave introverts in the dust and they are just as bright and are not getting their chance. So even if you’re facilitating a meeting or when we do come in to facilitate we say if you have a topic, we say, “Okay pause.” And just take a minute. It’s usually less than a minute to jot down what are your three ideas or what are your key points that you want to make and then have the discussion.

If you give introverts that processing time for them to get their thoughts in order, especially if you’re shifting topics in a meeting, rather than just diving into it, it really makes the conversation much richer, especially if you’re facilitating them and saying, “Hey, we haven’t heard from Mary, let’s pause and Mary, do you have anything to say”, because she probably does.

Susan: Yes, I mean the other topic I think it’s important to talk about here is at the best of times when conflict comes up, when there are big differences between people’s perspective that often in meetings, too often, a leader will say, “You guys need to take that offline.” Or, “We’re going to just fight about this so we’re not going to talk about it here.”

CrisMarie: She wrote a blog last week and it was like you say something and there’s just silence, nobody disagrees or agrees. And then somebody just jumps in and goes on, then it’s like the turd in the room, you’re like, “What? What just happened? Did I say something wrong?”

Susan: Yes. And I mean those things were prevalent when people were getting together in meetings and problematic. They’re even more prevalent and important to address now. And one thing, as we always talk about, conflict can be messy, it doesn’t always work out well.

But at least when someone’s making the effort, even if it was not the best, but you know you’re going to be meeting again next week, or you know you’re going to be, acknowledge, “I’m really glad you brought that up. I know we didn’t quite resolve it yet but I really appreciate that we’re talking about this.” Make it comfortable for people to have that awkward messy conversation.

CrisMarie: I love that Susan, it’s like as the leader of the team you really want to acknowledge when somebody takes the risk of saying something, to disagree with you or disagree with their peer. And to give them that kind of real time permission or acknowledgement like yeah. And know that you’re going to feel awkward when you’re having a crucial conversation. It’s not like you get a certain level of skill and all of a sudden this thing becomes easy, it doesn’t, not even for us and we teach this in our lives.

It’s uncomfortable but without it what starts to happen is like if I say something or I bring something up and I disagree and nobody says anything I start to think oh my gosh, what did I do wrong? Or I start to talk to other people about it. It takes my mind space, all of a sudden I’m not nearly as productive because I’m worrying and perseverating about this issue.

Or if I don’t say anything and somebody’s doing something I’m not disagreeing with them, even though I really do disagree, again, I’m taking all that space, all that energy and not being productive. I’m trying to talk to people about it one-on-one, see if other people agree. All that is politics, it creates confusion. It’s just messy and a waste of time.