Getting commitment in virtual meetings is not easy. Have you already checked out the first part in this series? “Seven best ideas to improve virtual teamwork”? Then you already know the scary statistics: 65% of all people in online meetings writing e mails. 47% secretly going to the bathroom. And over 20% each even playing video games or doing online shopping while you are trying to discuss with them.
In another post, I already identified missing “social glue” as one main reason WHY online interaction is often so deficient. I also listed seven tips to improve the situation. Now you get concrete examples, how to make these tips work for you. Remember: Humans tend to help humans. They don’t tend to help voices in the ether or letters on the computer screen.
So here are my seven tips how to make yourself and also the team members more “human” to each other. Or in other terms: how to increase mutual responsiveness and commitment.
You can, by the way, also listen to this as a podcast here https://www.brainfood-for-leaders.com/schmooze-or-lose/
- Make sure that you all have pictures of each other in front of you. Most platforms support this; participants of a meeting can upload photographs into their profiles. Research has shown that willingness to support a person increases significantly, when the other sees a picture of them rather than only reading their name. Video camera would of course be best, if the bandwidth allows for it.
- Start the meeting with a check-in round. At least when you are less than 12 or 16 people. Why? When you meet face to face, your eyes and many other senses tell you a lot about how everybody in the room is feeling at that moment. Usually you then automatically adjust your contributions so they are more likely to be accepted by the others. In a virtual meeting, everybody is lacking this subtle but important information. The check-in round is substituting parts of it. As a facilitator, ask your team members the following two questions immediately at the beginning of the meeting:
Question 1: “From where exactly are you joining today?” You want to know, if the person is in a room by themselves or in a big office with others, maybe commuting even. You want to know if they can speak freely where they are, if they are in their home office with a sick child or awaiting some delivery… knowing this kind of information makes interaction easier, especially when it comes to interruptions on the side of that person.
Question 2: “With which thoughts and in which mood are you entering the meeting?” The answers to this question already may contain important clues about your team members’ expectations, hopes, frustrations etc. and generally tell you if they have understood the purpose of the meeting in the same way as you.
- If technically possible, the person doing their check-in should open a webcam and allow the team to see their face and catch a glimpse of where they are sitting. It is not a good idea, however, to have the cameras live all the time, because usually the quality of the data connection including other features (like audio or screensharing) suffer.
- Introduce a simple but effective communication rule: Before contributing, a person should always say their name. Why? Some people do not know each other’s’ voices well. Or the connection is bad. What do you think – how likely is, let’s say, Mary to comment on something Rob has said a few moments ago, if she is not sure who the speaker was? It is awkward saying “I agree/ disagree with what that gentleman said.”, especially when they are supposed to know each other as team members.
- Acknowledge everybody’s presence. Why? To be seen and heard is a natural human desire. We automatically feel more attached and more committed to a person who fulfils this desire. And the other way round: If we feel like we are not seen and not heard, we automatically disengage and feel less commitment, no matter how noble the cause of the group may be. How exactly do you acknowledge your team members? First by greeting every person by name as soon as they enter the meeting. The more heartfelt and personal you can make your greeting, the better. Secondly: When someone made a contribution and if you have a chance to speak, refer to it by using their names: “Ah let’s see… Karen just pointed out… “ or: “Coming back to what Marc just said…” or “Who has questions about what Mike just mentioned?” In a face to face situation you do a lot of acknowledging automatically with your eyes. Here you need to do it verbally.
- Consciously teach your team members to keep the interaction flowing in a similar way, using each other’s names and acknowledging each other’s presence.
- Actively point out connections between different people’s contributions. This is similar to acknowledging your individual team members, only this time you focus on the connections you can see between the individuals. “What Barbara just suggested seems to tie in nicely with Tom’s idea.” Or “I see a clash between Anna’s focus on quality and Susan’s focus on speed, how much of that impression do you others share?” or: “If we for a moment assume that we follow David’s suggestion, this would mean that Derek’s material could be used, however, you would need to adapt that, Derek. What do you think?” Remember: They all do not see each other and maybe Derek is not bold enough to storm on the scene and point out that David’s idea opens a chance for his material to be used. One in the team needs to be bold and continuously break the ice. This can be you. This can also be one of your team members, who is good at that kind of thing.
I saved the good news for the end: If you start implementing these practices, your team meetings will gradually change. Meeting by meeting, people will feel more at ease and familiar with each other. This in turn makes it easier for them to speak up, talk about difficult facts and to listen to each other attentively. After a while, the communication will be lively and commitment will again become a natural thing. Because you are working together as fellow humans, not as voices in the ether.
So if you like, just note down the three tips, which you think you can implement immediately in your next meeting. If you like to comment or share your experience, you are welcome to do so here. More blog posts with tips for virtual collaboration are to follow. Or check out what I can do for you as a virtual team coach. https://www.drtheresiatauber.de/moderation-workshops-fuer-teams/workshops-fuer-virtuelle-teams/