The group’s first attempt at problem-solving in a Virtual Meeting was “okay”, yet everyone agreed that they’d be faster and smarter if they stopped talking over each other.

The team observed that it was hard to pick up cues that someone wanted to speak when they could only see a small image of the person on a computer screen. Similarly, it was hard to signal when you wanted to contribute without interrupting someone else. The team asked, “But how do we get a word in edgeways without talking over each other?”

Systems Breed Behaviour Based on our learning that:

Good systems breed good behavior and good behaviour breeds good systems,  here are seven essential tools and techniques for Virtual Meetings, from red10 ‘s Kirsten Campbell, Sarah Barber and Will Sudworth:

  1. Technique: Agree ‘Ground Rules’ at the start
  2. Technique: Assign a meeting Chairperson or an agenda item Facilitator
  3. Tools: Spin-rounds, Popcorn & Passes
  4. Tool: Chat Tool: Virtual Fist-5 Technique:
  5. Non-Waving Raised Hand Technique:
  6. Support, build and bring-in

Bag of Tools

If you find this article useful, have you seen our Free Kit for Virtual Meetings ?

Free Kit for Virtual Meetings

This article is one of the Bag of Tools in our 3Bs Virtual Kit – Basecamp, Behaviours and Bag of Tools to help leaders facilitate great virtual meetings. There are advanced tools that you may be interested in too, such as Breakout Rooms and Annotations for prioritizing

1. Technique: Agree ‘Ground Rules’ at the start

You’ll never regret carving out 5 minutes for ‘Ground Rules’ at the start, agreeing the behaviours we do and don’t expect during the meeting, which could include some of the approaches explained below.

red10 have created a set of ‘Ground Rules’ that virtual teams can download, tailor and use for free, called the 7½ Rules  – could these be of use to you?

2. Technique: Assign a meeting Chairperson or an agenda item Facilitator

It makes a big difference if the team assign someone to be the facilitator – either as a Chairperson for the entire meeting or a different facilitator for each agenda item.

The Chairperson could be the team leader, but it doesn’t have to be – freeing up the leader works well.

A great facilitator will ask the team to support them by:

  • Responding well when they do what we call “gate-keeping”, e.g. asking: “Does this need to go in the parking lot?” or “Are we going off topic?” or “10 mins left – is that enough or do we need to re-contract on time?”
  • Spotting a short-cut opportunity before the facilitator, e.g. asking “How about we use Chat for this question, so that we can hear from everyone?”

As well as assigning facilitation, in red10‘s 7½ Rules  we also suggest dividing out ownership of the action log, the parking lot and the agile agenda itself.

3. Tools: Spin-rounds, Popcorn & Passes

These three tools all provide a structure giving everyone an opportunity to contribute, each with their own pros/cons to handle:

Tool Technique Pros Managing Downsides
Spin-Round: Facilitator chooses whose turn it is next – ideally using a list that everyone can see. Straightforward People may need more time to formulate their answer – tell people that they can ask you to come back to them
Popcorn: Facilitator asks, “Who wants to pop next?” and people speak when they’re ready. Read more about this tool here. Allows people the time they need to formulate their response You can get awkward silence – encourage people to pop as soon as they are ready, to give time for those who aren’t
Pass: Facilitator asks the person who has just spoken, “Who would you like to go next?” and they choose Enables team to facilitate themselves   Encourages active listening and mutual tracking of who hasn’t been People can lose track on who has been – let people know this is normal, and encourage them to listen, track and help each other remember  

These clever words prime people to be concise and not interrupt:

“In exchange for the blissful knowledge that you will not be interrupted, you have the responsibility to be succinct”. 

Whichever method you choose to follow, a good facilitator keeps a note of who has spoken so that nobody is left out, or inadvertently called upon more than once.

4. Tool: Chat

Whichever virtual platform you choose,  it will include a Chat tool, which can be a quicker route to sharing opinions and is especially useful for brainstorming.

By asking people to stop, reflect and then write in Chat, you are also helping the team to be concise and to avoid group-think.

A typical process might be:

  • Ask someone to pose the question – say it verbally and also write it in Chat (to increase attention-span, and to help those with English as a second language)
  • Give people time to stop-reflect and write one or more responses in Chat (ask people to respond with ‘fine’ or ‘no more to add’ rather than not responding)
  • Ask the person who posed the question to summarize what they read – ideally clustering the ideas together into named themes. 

This might be enough to get the alignment you need. If not, then you could choose one of these options:

  • Propose themes to explore further – using Powerful Phrases  to reach alignment
  • Ask the team to prioritize which themes to explore further – simply using Chat again
  • Ask the team to prioritize, using a virtual version of sticky dots in advanced tools such as MS Teams Reactions or Zoom Annotations

5. Tool: Fist-5

Click here to read more on this incredibly useful tool.

In virtual meetings it can be used two ways:

  • In tools like Zoom where you can see everyone’s video on one screen, you can ask everyone to hold their Fist-5 up to the camera
  • You can ask people to enter their Fist-5 opinion in the Chat – which has the advantage that you can see a person’s name next to their 0—5 number.

6. Technique: Non-Waving Raised Hand

Putting a hand-up physically to register that you would like to contribute works well when the facilitator registers it with a simple nod, allowing you to let go of your point for now and re-engage with the current topic.

Tools like Zoom have special functionality, allowing you to raise your hand virtually.

In our Ground Rules for Virtual Meetings , we ask people to keep an eye constantly on Chat. This enables people to write something like the following into Chat:

  • “I’d like to raise a question about X”

Or

  • “Can I speak in a moment about Y?”

Just like in a face-to-face meeting – we encourage people to avoid constantly waving their hand in the air, as it reduces your ability to listen.

7. Technique: Support, Build and Bring-in

Can you support other people’s ideas?

Can you ask people for their ideas?

Can you build on other people’s ideas?

In his research into Communicating Behaviours, Professor Rackham found that when you start to adopt these great behaviours, then others return the favour: they bring you in and give you space to speak too.

Try them out…

How do you get a word in edgeways? By agreeing systems as a team.

What will you find? That good systems breed good behaviours.

Please let us know how you get on with these 7 essential techniques and tools for virtual meetings and let us know of any others you can suggest…