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June 03, 2020

Five Ways to Increase Engagement of Virtual Teams (Part 2 of 3)

Note:  This blog series is based on one of our new “Work from Home Series” of LPM tools and templates.

In Part 1 we discussed how to increase the engagement of virtual teams using a Communication Plan, which helps ensure regular, clear communication, and a Matter Plan, which helps define clear roles and responsibilities within the team. In this Part 2, we present valuable suggestions on how to improve virtual team meetings.

Action Step 3:  Improve virtual team meetings

Another way to engage remote team members is to improve the team’s virtual meetings.  Below are some suggestions:

Before the meeting:

  • Schedule a video conference as opposed to a phone call. The platform should be secure and easy-to-use and offer screen sharing technology.
  • Clearly define the meeting objectives.
  • Assess how long it will take to realistically complete the most important items on the agenda with the people you have invited, and keep the meeting as short as possible.
  • Distribute an agenda in advance. This can be a one-sentence e-mail, or a more formal document.
  • The agenda should include:
    • The start and end time.
    • The topics or decisions to be made or discussed, in order of importance.

During the meeting:

  • Be crystal clear about who is running the meeting. That’s probably you. But maybe it should be someone else if they have skills that will enable them to better meet the objective.
    • If the meeting goal is simply to communicate decisions that have been made, anyone in authority can do it.
    • But if a meeting requires joint decision-making or consensus building, you will need a facilitator with good communication skills who can keep the discussion on track without bruising feelings. For meetings of this sort, it may be useful to start by reviewing the process and ground rules about how decisions will be made and how you will deal with items that cannot be resolved in this meeting.
    • In any case, the meeting leader must be a good role model: On time, organized, fully engaged, and focused on the topic and on what people are saying.
  • Whenever possible, start exactly on time.
    • The reason that this piece of advice starts with “whenever possible” is because the ‘client’ is always right. If the managing partner, practice group leader, or visiting general counsel wants to start 10 minutes late, do that.
  • Follow the agenda. If there are three topics to be covered, finish number one before you begin number two. If the conversation drifts, refer to the agenda and get back on track.
  • Drive topics to resolution. Summarize comments and bring the group to a decision or ask them to confirm that what you’ve said is a fair summary.
  • Never end late. No matter what time you start, the meeting should end at the announced time. People have other commitments, and meeting leaders should honor them. Unless, of course, the client or boss disagrees.
    • If a topic turns out to require more discussion than you expected, table it for an outside meeting or propose a quick action plan for how to resolve it.
    • Be prepared to deal with people who will inevitably be inclined to go beyond any time limit. The meeting leader must prevent that.
  • End early if you can. Once the objective is met, end the meeting. Make sure everyone knows that you ended early, the objective was met, and you put a few extra minutes back into everyone’s lives.
  • If your meeting objective includes building team efficiency and/or morale, make an effort to get everyone involved:
    • Ask team members to report project status.
    • Ask the team for feedback on discussion points.
    • Develop buy-in on the issues and solutions.
    • If one or two people are doing most of the talking, make a point of including others and asking for their input.
  • Handle problems promptly but diplomatically:
    • Say: “It looks like we’ve drifted a bit; let’s come back and focus on the agenda item.”
    • Acknowledge the person’s experience with a subject but suggest the issue be raised at a later time.
    • Say: “We’ve heard from X, does anyone have a different view?”
    • If the conversation is important but time is running out, assign a smaller group to either gather more information or move the process along once the meeting is over. Find the ‘owner’ of the problem and assign it to that person.
    • If two people are dominating the conversation, send them off to figure it out.
  • Record all decisions:
    • Keep simple meeting minutes, including all conclusions reached, who is assigned to do what and by when, and any items tabled for later.
    • If it would help, assign someone else as the note-taker who will be responsible for keeping the meeting minutes.
    • If a follow-up meeting is needed, ideally the minutes should include the time for the next meeting and an initial agenda including any outstanding or tabled items.

After the meeting:

  • As soon as possible after the meeting, distribute a written report of what was decided and any action items. Like the agenda, this can be a one-sentence email or a fancy report, but it must be done.
  • Monitor follow-up on action items.
  • Give recognition and appreciation to excellent and timely progress.
  • If any high-level problems came up, discuss them with decision makers.
  • Consider evaluating this meeting to help you improve the next one. What worked and what didn’t? Most importantly, did the meeting achieve your objective?

In Part 3 we will complete this series by discussing how to increase engagement by creating an open team culture and fostering shared vision, outcomes, and a sense of purpose

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