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Business/Economy

8 ways to fix online meetings

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: October 12
  • Published October 12

(Getty Images)

If you dread meetings — attending them, hosting them — and long for meetings to become more than a necessary evil, you can make it happen. Last Thursday and Friday, I hosted a two-day, 15-hour meeting that the 17 attendees said “zoomed by,” “was fun, kept me engaged the entire time;” and “made an hour seem like five minutes.” Here’s how we did it.

A ‘you’ start

We started with the “real,” with questions like “how is remote working for you this week?”

Real value

Before I launched into the first topic, I asked everyone what they hoped the meeting focused on and what results they wanted from it. Everyone listens to the same radio station: WIFM, “what’s in it for me.” If your meeting attendees know from the start they’ll receive value, their minds move from cruise control to attentive. If you promise, however, you need to deliver, so clarify at the meeting’s start what’s possible and what’s out of bounds or needs to be tabled to a subsequent meeting.

No wasted time

Our meeting moved fast. We wasted no time on the irrelevant. Anything that could have been conveyed by email ahead of time, was.

Clear agreements

Ahead of time, everyone knew when the meeting would start and end. We held our seven-minute breaks and 30-minute lunch break on time and announced the exact time we’d restart. As a result, no one left when we were in session, and everyone returned on time.

Full engagement

No one multi-tasked on other things; if they did, they lost out. While slides provided some content, the best material came out of individuals' mouths — which meant that those who didn’t pay attention lost out. As the meeting host, I called on people out of order; that meant no one knew when they would be “on.”

We team-built

We engaged in a variety of team-building exercises. Here are a few favorites:

“Who’s on”: For a team to play with full engagement, team members need to know where each other is coming from. In “who’s on”, each team member addresses three questions with short answers: “my top priority for the coming week”; “what I depend on a specific other individual or all other team members for”; and “what I wish the others would understand”.

This last topic gives attendees or groups a chance to put on the table what needs to be said. Years ago, when I facilitated a meeting consisting of managers at a newspaper, the head of circulation said he wished the newsroom would understand that “one minute cost 12 hours.” If the newsroom wanted to the hold the presses for an extra minute, the papers got to the loading dock after the circulation carriers left, leaving the senior circulation staff with 12 hours to answer customer complaints and themselves deliver newspapers.

Team metaphor: Team metaphor gives team members a chance to safely describe what’s working, or not, on your team. Team members, working individually or in small teams, describe how your team currently operates using a metaphor, and supply a second metaphor for how they wish your team would operate.

For example, is your team a U.S. Olympic swim team, in which everyone’s a soloist; a relay team, with runners passing the baton; a softball team, in which everyone comes up to bat but handles a unique position in the outfield, a roller derby team where members elbow each other as they speed around? I once described my company’s team as a SWAT team.

Expectations: Hidden expectations can throttle teams, while stated expectations inspire productivity and create alignment. What do you as a manager, supervisor or team lead expect out of your team members? What do they expect out of you, and equally as important, out of each other?

During an expectations exchange, each individual or category of employee outlines their expectations of the individual to whom they report and each other, and their immediate manager outlines expectations for his or her direct reports.

Use the technology

Every video-conferencing method offers options. Last week, we used Zoom’s breakout rooms, whiteboards and polling options, however, Lifesize, Team, GoTo Meetings and other technologies work well and each offers innovative engagement methods.

Team meetings work better when members can see each other; ask every member to use webcams.

Agreements

Operating agreements answer the question: who is responsible to deliver what by when. By incorporating agreements into your meeting and work week, team members understand exactly what’s expected of them and what they can expect others to deliver. This clarity encourages full responsibility and keeps your team aligned with your organization’s purpose and each other.

Do you face a meeting next week? Which of the eight strategies above can you use to make the meeting move fast and provide real value?

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