Running a good meeting is hard enough offline. If you're suddenly forced to meet online, working with a remote team, you face a daunting challenge.
In today's lesson of the Better Online Events mini course, we cover 3 princples and 5 specific actions you can implement, that lead to kick-ass meetings. If you're ready to stop wasting time on tech headaches and have meetings that are actually productive and fun, this one is for you!
The 3 Principles
In the book The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle describes what makes highly effective teams with great team culture. Regarding online meetings, we can extract 3 important principles from the book:
Principle 1: Spontaneous, Rapid Communication
Highly effective teams are animated & engaged when they meet. Team members can interject with questions or comments any time and everyone's exchanging ideas at a rapid pace.
This doesn't mean people are rudely interrupting each other - in the case of high performing teams, everyone's so well in tune with each other that a spontaneous exchange can happen without egos being bruised.
Principle 2: Active Work & Engagement
In a highly effective team, participants aren't sitting around idly, waiting for the speaker to finish or trying to covertly check their phones. Creative teams don't only talk with each other in a meeting, they're also actively engaged in work at the same time. That can range from sketching on a whiteboard to moving sticky notes around to working on a physical model.
Principle 3: Equal Speaking Time
In well run teams, each team member gets the same amount of speaking time in meetings, on average. A good meeting isn't one where the highest-paid-person-in-the-room pontificates away at length and everyone else listens quietly.
The 5 Action Steps
For online meetings, here are 5 practical things to implement, to achieve a Culture Code level of engagement:
Choose a Meeting Tool
This step is actually the least important one. Yes, you do need a reliable meeting tool to work with. But almost any tool will do. You don't need any special features or bells and whistles to run a good meeting.
Here are some tools that are suited for meetings:
(note: we're not including Zoom in our recommendations due to the privacy and security issues in the tool that have come to light.)
Run a Hashout Session
One of the great frustrations with online meetings comes from technical friction. Too often, it can take several minutes at the start of a meeting before everyone's connected and everyone has their audio and video issues sorted out.
To prevent this friction, run a hashout session, where the goal is for everyone on the team to get their setup sorted out. Have them watch lesson 1 in this course to learn all the specifics.
The goal is that by the end, everyone is in a quiet space with good, clean audio and video and all the settings in the meeting tool dialled in. Once you have this setup, reuse it every time. Everyone on the team needs to know that these things have to be in place before a meeting starts (i.e. no running off to fetch your headphones, several minutes into a session).
Unmuted Meetings & Self-Mute Discipline
A common problem on online meetings is that there's background noise coming through from one or several participants. A simple solution to this is to have everyone mute themselves whenever they aren't speaking. Unfortunately, this kills any kind of spontaneity in the interactions with your team.
Instead, run a hashout session as described above, provide team members with headsets or good microphones and run your meetings with everyone unmuted.
In addition, everyone on the team needs to practice self-mute discipline. Participants should notice when there's noise in their environment and mute themselves proactively.
Use Real-Time Collaboration Tools
Creative meetings should be about working together, not just talking to each other. For online collaboration, there are many tools to facilitate this.
Unfortunately, I can't make a straight-forward recommendation, since there are so many ways people work together and so many different tools made for different use cases. The list below should give you a good starting point:
- Use Google Docs to keep notes during a meeting. Even if there is one dedicated note-taker, you can give everyone access to the same doc, so they can see the notes being taken in real time.
- There are all-in-one collaborative tools for note taking, task management, feedback and review etc. Consider checking out Notion, Basecamp or Dropbox Paper.
- Find a collaborative whiteboard tool that suits your need. These range from simple whiteboards like AWW through sophisticated mind-mapping, sticky-noting and planning boards like Miro to niche-specific ones like Invision's Freehand for design teams.
- Task management tools like Trello, Asana or Clickup let you share project boards with team members and see everyone's inputs in real time.
Show Your Hands
According to Vanessa Van Edwards from Science of People, we unconcsiously check each other's hands whenever we meet. Perhaps to check whether someone approaching us is armed.
Whatever the reasons, it seems that when we interact with people without being able to see their hands, it makes us uneasy.
In online meetings, you can make a habit of showing your hands by waving at everyone in the beginning. In addition, try to set your webcam up in such a way that people can see your hands gesturing whenever you're speaking.
This is a tip I came across in this podcast episode on the Distributed Podcast by Matt Mullenweg. If you're going to be running online meetings on a regular basis, I highly recommend giving this one a listen.