Team icon copyAre your team members spread-out around the country – or maybe the globe? Are your face-to-face meetings rare and expensive?

Having worked with an increasing number of teams using tools like Lync, Hangout and WebEx, Will Sudworth has developed 4 ideas for making virtual meetings more impactful and engaging and has been helping teams to thrive virtually, rather than just making the best of a difficult situation.

1. Virtual Sticky Notes & Flipcharts

Facilitating using sticky notes & flipcharts has become the norm for great interactive face-to-face meetings.

Given limited meeting time, sticky notes enable all team members to share ideas at the same time and then see both the big picture and the detail. The virtual equivalent is to use a chat room. Typing first then discussing later speeds up discussion in larger teams just like asking people to “stop-reflect-write and only then report back” speeds up a face-to-face meeting. Discussing just some of the ideas once you’ve seen everyone’s opinions also allows you to focus in straight away on the gems.

Some people – especially those with a Myers-Briggs N preference – express their ideas more effectively by drawing…a picture is worth a 1,000 words and all that. The virtual equivalent of flipcharts is using a drawing package or PowerPoint. After sharing your PowerPoint app, you can hand over control so that someone else can add to or change the picture you’ve been drawing, just like happens in the best face-to-face meetings.

2. Virtual Language

Outstanding teams have an agreed set of phrases that help to ensure everyone is alert and they know a decision-point coming up.

Great phrases include:

“Are there any objections to this proposal?”

“Let’s spin round the room to hear everyone’s view”

“My proposal is…”

“My counter proposal is…”

“How supportive would people be of this proposal on a 0-5?”

3. The Virtual Water Cooler

Warning: This is the most controversial of all the ideas…

Have you noticed how a lot of ideas happen during breaks at the drinks station?

Whilst it is bad practice to have these chats during a face-to-face meeting in side-whispers, virtual meetings can break this convention to encourage team members to do private or group chats in the chat room, allowing the kind of multi-tasking that is common in every other sphere of life without disturbing the flow of the meeting.

Example: a presenter says that they would like comments as they go along in the chat room, but explains that they won’t respond to them all until the end of each section so that they don’t lose their flow

Example: a team member has a tangential idea sparked by the presentation they are listening to, which they can test with another colleague there and then (whilst they can get hold of them!), yet not lose track of the main presentation.

This requires extra discipline and trusts that team members won’t access anything but the virtual tools whilst meeting, i.e. they won’t access their email.

4. The next generation of virtual tools

The next generation of means and methods for virtual team working is already here and could be in use by your competitors. The favourite for red10 is an immersive 3-D working and learning environment called QUBE, which gives you a virtual body like in a gamer’s ‘shoot-em-up’ and is packed with tools such as sticky notes, flipcharts, break-out seating, etc..

In Conclusion…

Whilst face-to-face meetings take some beating for many reasons, my experience is that the secret to great virtual meetings is to find the virtual equivalent of the in-person tools and then accelerate the efficiency and productivity by finding great virtual technology.

I’d love to hear from people who have other tips or who have experience they’d like to share in using the ideas I am suggesting.

Finally, some virtual teams pick an ‘exotic location’ for each meeting, with the leader sharing a picture and finding ways to use the exotic location as a creative theme. Sadly, I do not have permission to show you the pictures of the team who raised my eyebrows with the Hawaii outfits they physically wore to the meeting we agreed to have in a virtual beach hut! Some things at work, as in life, are best left to the imagination.